THE VACCINE roll-out is cause for optimism that there is a way out of the Covid nightmare.

It is hard now to believe that this time last year all that has happened was still a distant threat. The lockdown we expected to last a few weeks was still a month away, but farming has fared better than most. This is no surprise, given that food is the ultimate essential product. But there is growing global evidence that food and agriculture are moving into the post-coronavirus era faster than other sectors.

That makes it all the more frustrating that governments now judge farming to be more about green issues than food production. It remains an industry than can deliver a lot for the UK economy, but for that to happen the government has to get the basics right. Top of the list, with the lamb selling season fast approaching, would be evidence that it has measures in place to ensure the industry does not end up like the fishing industry – drowning in red tape and unable to supply markets that want its products.

There are faint signs that the committee structure between the UK and EU to resolve trade problems is beginning to work, but it needs a bigger political push to deliver results. The problem remains that it is the UK drowning in that sea of red tape, while food imports from the EU-27 are faring better.

One of the problems with Covid is that it is hard to see brighter days ahead, but they should be coming. The vaccine programme is one of the few things the UK government has got right, although the success is more down to the national nature of the health service, rather than anything politicians have done beyond ensuring vaccine supplies.

There is strong evidence that farm businesses with diversification enterprises will make up for a late start with a good summer and autumn. There is a deep pool of spending power and a real enthusiasm with people to get out and about. Tastes have changed and staycations are here to stay. This is a golden opportunity for farmers to gear up their offer to this new demand. Days out and weekends away that might have seemed mundane a year ago will be the new gold dust and hopefully many farm businesses will gain.

Much as government might want to measure the output of agriculture in green outcomes, it is in reality an efficient, progressive and productive part of a global food production industry. The signs now are that this global industry is again doing well for most major commodities. The old theory that a rising tide lifts all boats then comes into play. The basis for this optimism is down to a number of issues. Not least is that much of Asia is now strongly into post-covid recovery, with demand recovering and spending power being unleashed. That has altered export prospects, with demand so high that Argentina is reportedly considering import taxes to damp down domestic food price inflation. Food prices are also being lifted by higher oil prices, which directly reflect global economic recovery.

These trends are evident in the latest food price figures from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). It says global food prices are now at their highest level since 2014, having risen by just over 4% from December to February. As well as Asian recovery improvements on the demand side of the equation they also reflect forecasts that production will be lower in a number of key agricultural production areas.

Cereal prices were the star performer – up 7% from December to February and now 20% higher than in January 2020. This reflects reports of a falling global stocks/production ratio. Dairy pries rose 1.6% from December to February, reflecting eights months of better prices, to leave them 7% ahead of January 2020.

In all good news there is of course always a but, and in this case it is over meat and red meat in particular. Prices are now the flip side of dairy prices, in that they are 7% below January 2020 levels and any price gains within that were restricted to poultry. That makes it all the more frustrating that red meat is constantly in the firing line in the EU and UK as they race to out-green each other.