It was unfortunate that the government chose the name ‘farm to fork’ for its promised summit on farming.

The EU policy with the same name is the green thinking that brought farm protests across Europe. Much as this might be a catchy policy name in London or Brussels, the hope has to be that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s version will prove less green and so less controversial with farmers.

Clearly stung by the report showing that Labour is eating into the Conservatives’ traditionally strong vote in rural areas, Sunak became the first prime minster since 2008 to address the National Farmers’ Union conference. He made the decision to attend with sights firmly set on a General Election and perhaps with the knowledge that past agriculture ministers have gone down at the NFU event like traditional lead balloons. As ever, the Sunak performance was polished and his commitments seemed genuine.

But when I hear any politician speak, I find my thoughts going back to Lord Plumb, a former NFU president and European politician, who often said that ‘talk is cheap, but it takes money to buy drink’. Let alone the luxury of drink, farmers would like to be in a position to pay their bills, feed their families. and have the respect from politicians, particularly the government, that they deserve.

Sunak has a reputation for highlighting technical solutions rather than practical ideas and there was a touch of this in what he delivered in Birmingham. His talk of funding for technology in agriculture, including for robots to replace migrant labour, is more science fiction than reality. Robots, as any dairy farmer knows, do not come cheap and working outside they are in an even more challenging environment.

Betting on an unproven technology is a heavy price to pay for the government’s wish to maintain its vision of Brexit purity that denies farmers access to the plentiful, cost-effective and good-quality casual labour competitors use. The commitment to index the level of food security is welcome and imaginative, but real delivery demands more imagination and a willingness to be radical. We need a new approach to food, based around quality local sourcing and short supply chains.

The government needs to be willing to tell a vociferous green lobby that this would do more to achieve a well managed, bio-diverse countryside than many of the ideas still central to the green philosophies being pursued for the countryside.

Time and a General Election will tell whether Sunak has steadied the rural vote ship. Farmers will need more than promises to be convinced, but he has put down a marker that sets a new baseline for the other political parties. Widen out the focus from electoral advantage and the question here and in the EU is whether politics have finally swung back in favour of farmers.

If that is the case here, it will have been achieved without the protests we saw in Europe and will probably see again before the June European Parliament elections. In the UK, we have a had a few tweaks and some promises, but in reality the government is still pursuing the same green policies. It is also still seeking to short-change farmers in terms of support and trade philosophies compared to the certainties of the CAP, despite all its many failings.

There is certainly a sense in Europe that a big shot has been fired across the bow of the European Commission and its constant pursuit of green policies. It has eased back on controversial plans for new pesticide regulations; agriculture has been excluded from tougher emission controls on industry; and there is a new willingness to listen to farmers and those who live in rural communities.

Many MEPs facing re-election have finally turned on the green conventional wisdom of Brussels, but in reality it is all too little, too late. Equally, with the present European Commission, which will be replaced in October, now moving into its final months it does not have the luxury of time to make long-term commitments and policies.

If the polls are right for the General Election, the same could be said of Sunak’s government. The test of what he promised this week can only come after the General Election.

To his credit he is now saying the right things – he

has shown an understanding of the problem, but delivery will demand a lot more political imagination than even Sunak has demonstrated, and that can only come after a General Election.