There are welcome signs that global food prices are returning to normal after a damaging for consumers and economies inflationary peak.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) food prices fell again in February. They were down 0.7%, month on month, driven by cereals and vegetable oils. The drop would have been greater, had it not been for a much needed increase in meat and dairy prices.

As ever with figures the story behind them is not simple. Meat and dairy prices rose strongly, but they are still far off the levels of the previous year. Dairy prices, driven by better butter prices, rose by just over one per cent from January to February.

However they are still 11% below the levels of 2023. While global markets are coming back to life and normality margins remain under pressure for farmers. Led by poultry and beef, meat prices rose in February by 1.8%, but this followed seven consecutive months of falling prices.

Again the picture is of global markets returning to stability and growth, but with farm margins still under pressure in most countries.

The picture is less encouraging for cereals, with prices down by over 22% on February 2023. This reflected a weakening of global markets, with crop yields and export availability higher in South America.

The fall in wheat prices in particular is also market linked, but here the FAO is suggesting it is Russian supplies driving down markets. Given the economic warfare Putin is waging against the West, in punishment for its actions over Ukraine, it is not clear whether this is a deliberate 'sell cheap' policy from Russia.

Whatever the reason it is hurting cereal farmers around the world, particularly in the EU. The official term used by the FAO is that there is a 'strong export pace' from the Russian Federation' . It is up to others to decide whether this is a deliberate policy to undermine a key sector of agriculture.

Like most figures these do not have in them the solutions farmers need. That lies further along the food chain and goes back to an issue that has prevailed for too long the disconnect between what is happening on global markets and prices on supermarket shelves.

This is however not a simple equation. There are lags before prices fall, but there is also a sense people have become locked into complaining about food prices, even though they have eased. People got too used for too long to gaining from farmers being expected to deliver food below the cost of production. However, setting those realities apart, there is still a case for a hard look at how the food chain is working and why it is failing to deliver fairness for farmers.

This is an exercise being undertaken in the EU, focussing on what Brussels describes in its legislation as unfair trade practices (UTPs.). Since it was ultimately a government decision to take us out of the EU, it has a responsibility to follow this example by demanding more of its own Grocery Code Adjudicator. However given its perilous electoral position it has bigger fish to fry, so while there may be a moral argument to be pursued it is unlikely to happen.

Consumer perception around high food prices have created a trend that has caused farmers and retailers real problems. That is trading down from premium to economy products in pursuit of value. This has hit producers across the board from high value steaks through quality processed products to expensive wines, which at a European level have been a real victim of this trend.

Henry Ford once defended not making small cars because 'big cars meant scope for big profits'. Equally with food, profits come from high value, premium products and the loss of these, as a result of the reaction to inflation, has been hurting everyone along the food chain.

Until this can be changed farm prices will remain under pressure because of limited opportunities to add value. For that to change consumers need to accept that prices are on a downwards trend and stop beginning every casual conversation with comments about the price of food.

Relative to incomes. food is again reasonably priced. There can be no return to the era of below production cost selling for farmers.

Now the government needs to follow the EU example by demanding fairness from retailers, with a threat of action if they fail to deliver it.