Forget the politics – the success of agriculture ultimately depends on someone, somewhere buying something produced on a farm.

This is the reality behind all the politics surrounding trade and regulations. If trade is a measure of success the EU is doing particularly well in what is ultimately a global game.

It is the world’s biggest agri-trader and with Brexit the UK walked away from being part of the trade bloc with the biggest and best free trade deals.

The latest figures from the EU are to the end of November last year. These make 2023 an exceptional year, if success is measured by increasing exports and a growing, positive balance of trade gap between exports and imports.

From January to November 2023 the EU trade surplus for agrifood was an impressive £55bn. This is well up year-on-year and it confirms why the EU recognises the vital importance of agriculture and food to the eurozone economy.

On exports the UK remained the EU’s biggest market, followed by the United States and China – the difference being that exports to the UK increased, while those to the US and China fell. Because of Europe’s reliance on protein imports Brazil remained its biggest supplier, followed by the UK and Ukraine.

These figures confirm that European and UK food business have used their ingenuity to ensure trade was not affected by Brexit. They also confirm that despite bravado talk from Brexit supporters in the Boris Johnson era about the sunny uplands of new trade deals in distant markets Europe remains our natural and biggest trading partner for agriculture and food.

That is logical, given that in contrast to many other markets the EU and UK both have high cost from high standards. The figures also underline the case for ignoring those who want to deviate UK standards from those of the EU.

Maintaining similar standards gives the UK easy access to Europe and the rest of the world that accepts European standards as a benchmark.

As with all figures there is a but - the proof of the old adage of lies, damned lies and statistics. All figures for 2023 reflect inflation, which makes the EU balance of trade growth still good but not quite as spectacular as percentage figures imply.

That said, there can be no getting away from the economic performance reflected in a £55bn positive balance of trade. One area that saw a fall was cereals, with volumes down as the world stabilised after the shock of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Prices have fallen on the back of plentiful supplies, but an issue raised in the Scottish Farmer headline of last week – ‘Up horn, down corn’ - raised an issue Europe is reluctant to discuss.

This is the volume of grain costly to produce, because of input costs, that is sitting in farm storage because buyers are reluctant to commit. There are many reasons, but one that is politically embarrassing is the impact of Ukraine being treated as if it were an EU member state in terms of tariff free access.

This is being blamed by many for the problems of the grain market - particularly the volumes stuck in storage. There has been debate for a long time about Ukraine’s easy access to the EU in the countries that border it, but this has now spread. Farmer anger and frustration has been increased by the recent farm protests and Ukraine for many is a target.

The problem of grain stuck on farms as far away from Ukraine as the grain producing areas of France is now on the agenda. Many are saying the EU should be giving Ukraine easy access to ports to export grain rather than easy access to some of the best, high value, global markets in Europe.

This issue has been given a new edge by the upcoming elections to the European parliament. Far Right parties are forcing this issue on to the agenda, with the message that things were better when the EU’s first priority was to protect its markets and the livelihoods of all its citizens, including those in rural areas who are increasingly disenchanted with the political status quo.

The problem for the EU is that it has managed to just about maintain member state unanimity over support for Ukraine and Brussels has no answers on the problems its policies are creating in agriculture.