The F word is so described because of its capacity to shock and offend. In agriculture the F word with a capacity to shock is fertiliser, with the rise in prices certainly shocking.

We know why this is happening, but that is little comfort. There is no question that fertiliser delivers a return in terms of additional yields, but the crucial issue is whether the market has the capacity to cover the additional input costs.

Across Europe the initial shock to the fertiliser market came from higher gas prices. This was long before Russia invaded Ukraine and since then the situation has become steadily worse. Add into that equation the fact that Russia, now the subject of global trade sanctions, was one of the biggest exporters of ammonium nitrate and we are in a perfect storm.

That is being made even worse because of supply and demand problems in a global market. The result is an unprecedented surge in costs and this is one of the key drivers of food price inflation. It is less well understood by consumers than other factors such as higher grain prices, labour shortages and fuel costs. But it is a major part of the equation because the rise has been so dramatic.

Fertiliser costs have long been an issue for the farming lobby in Europe and for the Irish Farmers Association in particular. It has used its position as a key member of the umbrella European farm lobby organisation, COPA, to press this issue for a number of years. Back when Phil Hogan became farm commissioner, IFA unsuccessfully urged him to drive a change of approach in Brussels over the anti-dumping duties to protect European manufacturers.

Ironically Russia was one of the main targets, but also some smaller ingredient exporters in the Caribbean. That was a campaign that failed to deliver, but in recent comments the IFA has again challenged the European Commission to show a greater commitment to farmers paying over the odds for fertiliser. It claims the EU has a 'structural imbalance' in its fertiliser market and says this has been overlooked in recent comments about the need for long terms action to make the EU food supply more secure.

The figures from the IFA are stark and they underline the uncomfortable position farmers are in, with no factors in play to drive change. These are not being helped by reports that ingredients destined for Europe are being diverted en route, with ships going elsewhere because higher prices are on offer. This may or may not be true, but whether it is fertiliser, grain or any other farming inputs, countries with oil enjoying high prices are well placed to out-bid anyone else out to secure what they need, now that supply sources in Russia have closed.

From January 2021 to the start of February this year – just before Russia attacked Ukraine – fertiliser prices rose by 250%. Price rises secured by farmers are described by the IFA as 'modest' and insufficient to cover this additional cost. However in the few weeks since the Ukrainian conflict began and changed global agricultural markets, fertiliser prices have risen even more steeply. The rise now since January 2021 is 370% and rising, as supplies tighten as demand rises.

It is no surprise that this is happening, given that the EU was dependent on Russia, Ukraine and Belarus for 43% of its fertiliser requirements. It is not possible to take that out of a market without impacts. The IFA says that in addressing food supply problems the EU should be including support for farmers and manufactures to ease the current pressures from fertiliser prices.

In the longer term it says the lesson of the risk from depending on imports needs to be taken on board, just as it has been for food. The EU has gone back to basics, with its decision that the primary role of the CAP is food security. However if it wants more production from agriculture in Europe, the IFA message is that the structural imbalance in fertilisers needs to be tackled as a long term policy initiative.

That makes sense and while post-Brexit lack of scale makes radical thinking largely irrelevant in the UK context, the government in London needs to heed what others are saying. Above all it needs to stop believing it can ignore the consequences of its policies that seek to break the link between farming and food.