ACROSS EUROPE, member states are splashing a lot of cash to help agriculture cope with the impacts that coronavirus have had.

The sectors being helped reflect the parts of the industry that suffered most from lost markets.

Not surprisingly, it is topped by beef and lamb, which lost out as a result of the food service sector grinding to a halt when restaurants and hotels closed across Europe.

Even now that sector is suffering a loss of tourism revenue, and that is limiting recovery.

However, the national aid schemes go wider, right down to plant nurseries, whose business also disappeared because lockdown closed garden centres.

The payments reflect the power of the farming lobby in various member states and this additional support is costly for individual governments. Approval of these payments under EU state aid rules is now an almost weekly event.

This process has been accelerated to get the approvals through quickly. On top of this, the wider EU €multi-billion coronavirus recovery programme will bring benefits to agriculture.

This will include greater flexibility to move CAP payments between agriculture and rural development, together with plans to make sure rural areas do not get left behind in the battle to head off the economic recession facing every EU member state.

Inevitably, some member states are more generous than others. Ireland is a prime example and a direct reflection of the power of the farming lobby.

The payments at an individual farm level are not sufficiently generous to distort trade, but in tough times every advantage is worth having.

In the UK, the government here could be just as generous as it wants to agriculture, within the constraints of the transition period rules for our final exit from the EU.

It has given some funding, but this is poor in comparison to what other countries are doing. This is no surprise given the weakness of agriculture’s case at Westminster.

That the government in London’s priority seems to be keeping pubs open and persuading people back into offices to support coffee bars, says a lot about the state of the UK economy. It is massively over-dependent on retail and the service sector in general.

This is why the UK will face a greater scale of job losses than most other economies in Europe. They largely see footfall to retail stores as a spin-off from a thriving economy, but in the UK this has become the economy – and when incomes are being squeezed and jobs lost this cannot deliver.

That situation is being made worse because one of the big success areas – financial services – is facing post-Brexit uncertainty about how it will operate, as the EU-27 plans for a potential no deal Brexit by adding bricks to its Fortress Europe barriers.

Now is the time for a Prime Minister and his Chancellor to be bold – to tell the harsh truth that for a post-Brexit world, the UK economy needs to be refocussed towards manufacturing and away from years of an excessive reliance on services. And the changes coronavirus has brought are not temporary.

We may well be seeing the start of a new business model, where out of office is not just an e-mail response. If this is the case, there is a pressing need for a fresh focus on core industries and technology.

Agriculture and food are sound industries with real long term growth potential and food processing provides jobs in rural areas where alternatives are limited. It is no longer sensible for the government to see agriculture as being solely about environmental delivery.

This is a benefit, but the real focus needs to be on agriculture as a source of food security for the nation and as a foundation for a strong food industry.

To base that on processing cheap imported food, which the government appears to want, would be a fatal flaw and another nail in the coffin of an already weakened economy.

That is the message the farming lobby needs to be delivering in the new Agriculture and Trade Commission in London. After its first meeting, the only criticism came from the RSPCA and British Veterinary Association, concerned that animal welfare is not part of trade policy.

While that is a good point, a better one is that this body should be tearing up the rule book, embarrassing its sponsoring minister and the London government – and demanding that farming and food are repositioned in the government’s plans for an increasingly ailing UK economy.