'The JRC has a big focus on climate change and it has poured cold water on assumptions that forestry could be the answer, globally or at a European level'

There is a growing sense of desperation in the government over inflation and its target of halving this by the end of the year now looks another example of hope over expectation.

It knows the traditional control measure of higher interest rates from the Bank of England carries with it the danger of tipping an already weak economy into recession. With an election looming in 2024, it also knows this would be disastrous for its prospects and for its ability to claim it has overturned the damage caused by the Truss six-weeks of economic madness.

The real concern is over food prices. These are the most evident sign of inflation for consumers, and a daily talking point.

The government has hinted at some form of voluntary initiative to stabilise the price of basic products, such as bread and milk. It is difficult to see how such a market intervention could work without legislation and even harder to see how that could be delivered.

If this results in pressure on retailer this will unfairly translate into pressure on farmers to cut prices to help consumers. The question that should be asked by politicians is why prices are continuing to increase, when global grain prices are well off their peaks and the price paid to farmers for milk has fallen even more dramatically from those peaks.

Yet it is dairy prices that are constantly given as an example of price rises on supermarket shelves. There are reasons why this is happening and they have little to do with farmers.

When costs fall, there is always an economic lag before this is reflected in prices. There is also a lot of wage inflation along the food chain, particularly in processing and retailing where jobs are proving hard to fill.

At the same time energy costs are falling and that is taking pressure off costs. In any debate around a ceiling on basic prices, government needs to produce a better explanation of what is driving higher prices. That may well include its Brexit ban on European labour, which was vital for the food industry.

That is an outcome over which the government needs to hold up its hand. Whatever happens, farmers will wrongly remain in the firing line over what is happening on supermarket shelves and whatever is done can only be about stopping things getting worse, rather than solving the problem.

Inflation is never a beast that can be easily controlled and government claims it could be halved without tough actions on interest rates is an extension of the Truss dogma of ignoring economic reality in favour of flawed political rhetoric.

The Joint Research Committee (JRC) is effectively the science and research arm of the European Commission. It does some good work, not least on grain yield forecasts and calculations around the rapidly changing weather patterns in Europe.

These have taken away certainties around weather, with Italy, for example, having gone from drought fears to floods while a cold, wet spring across much of northern Europe affected spring-sown crops. The JRC has a big focus on climate change and it has poured cold water on assumptions that forestry could be the answer, globally or at a European level.

Forestry acts as an effective sink to sequester, or lock up atmospheric carbon, but the JRC suggests this is not the easy answer it was long assumed to be. It claims forestry is only effective if there is no human activity in the forest, most notably logging, or other forms of management.

This underlines the importance of leaving alone Brazilian and other rainforests – and it gives added scientific weight to EU plans to curb imports from areas where deforestation is a problem.

As to forestry in Europe, it warns of competing with agriculture for land, which makes widespread expansion unlikely. Without massive incentives, forestry cannot compete economically with agriculture in land acquisition. Even if that issue could be overcome the economics and practicalities do not stack up.

Quoting research from Zurich University, the JRC claims that to absorb the equivalent of one year's carbon dioxide production, an area the size of Germany, France and Spain combined would have to be planted and allowed to grow to full maturity.

This, it says, is why the focus has to be on stopping carbon dioxide emissions at source, rather than seeking ways to absorb it. This also appears to rebalance the equation between the sequestration benefits of forestry and permanent grassland.