LONG TERM forecasts are risky and in the Covid world of today, even more risky.

This has not stopped the European Commission publishing Outlook Forecasts for food and farming. It has done this for many years, echoing in some ways the flawed forecasts from the old Soviet Union for what crops it would grow and how many tractors would be produced.

These never came true and the latest EU forecasts are so green they are, like those Soviet predictions, more of a wish list than reality.

The UK may be out of the EU, but if EU forecasters are right, the same trends will influence the demand for food here. They represent cold comfort for traditional agriculture. The latest figures, up to 2031, really do confirm the end of the era when science drove agriculture and the name of the game was productivity. Instead the EU is claiming its green vision will descend on the entire food system.

At one level, this is good news, because this trend cannot run in parallel with importing cheap food from countries without the same regulations and green aspirations. However this is where in both the EU and UK politics come into play. Both divorce trade policy from domestic regulation. As a result they want the comfort blanket of ultra-green policies at home, achieved by exporting the problem and importing cheap food. The result is pain but no gain for the global issue of greenhouse gases.

The uncontroversial headline figure in the report is that farm incomes will rise in the EU by an average 0.7% a year in the coming decade. This assumes a more modest rate of inflation than is the case, so in reality farmers risk losing out steadily. On the cost side the report suggests the rise in input costs will fall back from an average 1.8% over the past decade to a figure that matches the income growth.

However any hopes for stability are blown off course by confirmation that while this is the average, the present problem with fertiliser and energy costs will persist. These are forecast to rise by 2.7% a year up to 2031.

There is no great shock in these income and cost figures. They are as likely to be wrong as right, as they cannot take account of the unexpected. If the past two years have taught us anything however it is to expect the unexpected. Where the report is controversial is on consumer trends. Here the European Commission is in danger of believing its own publicity on the Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategies that are driving policy. It sees the big trends as an increasing interest and focus with consumers on environmental and animal welfare issues.

This is perhaps true, but the bigger question is whether that translates into what really happens at the supermarket checkout. Consumers may say they buy into these trends, but past history suggests a big gap between intentions and reality.

Read more: Covid testing rollout to protect UK food supply chain

This applies in particular to forecasts for a massive growth in demand for organic food and a swing away from livestock products towards fruit and vegetables. Because of pressure to reduce dietary fat levels the report predicts butter and cheese demand will fall dramatically. It also says demand for cereals for livestock production will fall, replaced by protein crops as alternatives to imported soya – another example of wishful thinking.

A key prediction is that demand for livestock products will fall, but the evidence for this dramatic conclusion about consumer tastes is weak. Beyond consumer trends, the report says farm labour numbers will continue to fall as farms become bigger and more mechanised. It also claims that because of the role of forestry to sequester carbon, the area will exceed that of traditional farm land by 2031.

While the consumer trends identified are unlikely to be on the scale the report suggests, they exist at some level. The challenge for farmers here and in the EU is to grasp those trends, ignore the extremes and convince consumers short supply chains back to high welfare, high environmental standards farming is the way ahead.

This might not suit the political agenda being pedalled in London and Brussels, but it is closer to reality than a belief that consumers are ready to dig deep in their pockets and change their lifestyles to be the shade of green politicians want of them.