With our driller making its first venture into the field just over a week ago it might not have been the earliest start to the spring sowing, but we calculated that it was more than a full month ahead of last year’s start date.

So, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that getting some crop in the ground at a more normal time will help improve on last year’s yields – when the crops were robbed of four weeks growing at the start of the season due to the rain and snow, and then suffered a further two week reduction at the end of the year due to the heat and the drought.

Of course you never know what the future holds – the truth of which is probably highlighted by the fact that there’s a big exclamation mark on today’s date on the calendar, signifying D-day for Brexit!

But let’s not go there…

With seeders and planters hard at work around the country, it’s amazing to think of all the technologies which are currently packed into these machines and the giant tractors which power them.

But I was interested to hear at a recent farm business seminar that while the size of tractors and the number of horse-power under the bonnet has grown substantially over the past 40-odd years, they were forecasting that we might be close to reaching the end of this trend – and that ‘peak tractor’ was just around the corner.

For while the techno-geeks have been predicting that we’re on the verge of a revolution in farm machinery, it was interesting to hear a well respected team of management consultants also hailing the arrival of the mini-bot and ‘swarm’ technology.

These, it’s been claimed, will change the face of our fields, with numerous small-scale autonomous machines doing the work rather than the current leviathans which, however capable, currently threaten our soil structure and like the dinosaurs of old have become too big for their own good.

We’ve all probably got our own favourite bits of kit – be it new and shiny and fresh off the production line, or old and trustworthy, having earned its stripes over the years. Several entire issues of this magazine could be probably be devoted to arguing which is best.

Some seem to judge the machine simply by the colour of its paintwork – with the allegiance shown to the various brands and makes of tractors and other farm machinery sometimes only equalled by that to a specific team on a Saturday afternoon on the football terraces – although it might sometimes be a close call to say which produced the most merchandise!

Like those ‘top 10’ list books which are produced at Christmas, I’ve often found myself wondering what has been the most important farm invention across the years.

Such lists generally have an undue focus on whatever is the most recent trend – so could it be the rise of auto-steer equipment on tractors which make drilling so much less of a strain which should be in top place? Or the mobile phone with its host of apps allowing you to do everything from keeping your field records in the palm of your hand to sharing You Tube clips of just how stuck you’ve managed to get your tractor?

Handy though such technology is, in this day and age where it appears that everything has to be measured, logged and possibly benchmarked, I’m pretty sure that the invention of the tractor has probably done more to improve our productivity.

So has the biggest boost come from more hard-core old fashioned engineering – in the shape of better ploughs, seed drills and sprayers?

Any of these could easily be argued to have given us a major boost in productivity, especially as many of them have evolved as the years have passed, with new developments tending to introduce gradual improvements on older designs.

But while all these might have played their part, I’ve been reading a book which lays out a case for one hard and fast winner – and the chances are that even if you’ve heard of it, you probably would never have thought of putting it in the top 10 inventions or discoveries which have changed not only farming but, quite literally, the whole of humankind.

So, step forward the Haber-Bosch process, the amazing breakthrough made just over 100 years ago which allowed the manufacture of artificial nitrogen fertilisers to massively boost the world’s ability to produce enough food to feed its burgeoning population.

Apparently, during the Victorian age, there was a massive growth in the use of imported guano as a fertiliser – basically several thousand year’s worth of sea-bird dung which was imported in huge quantities from islands off the coast of South America. However, the huge increases in yields which this bird poo offered were under threat as supplies dried up – and it was realised that the alternative supplies from geological nitrate deposits in the Chilean desert probably wouldn’t last forever either.

Much like today’s fears over global warming, the scientific community realised that unless something was done pretty sharpish, mankind – especially those in Europe and North America who relied on these two products to produce their crops – faced mass starvation within a few decades.

Just like we’re chasing renewables to answer the double threats of climate change and dwindling oil supplies, the pressure was piled on to come up with an answer to this doomsday scenario of the time.

While German scientist, Fritz Haber, discovered that by using extremes of temperature and pressure it was possible to fix some of the 80% of air which is made up of nitrogen and convert it into ammonia, his table-top process which produced a cup-full over the course of a day was taken forward and developed by his fellow countryman, Carl Bosch, who scaled it up to industrial levels.

It would be fair to say that, without this, starvation would have seen human population limited to a maximum of around 4bn souls, rather than the figure of over 7.5bn at which it currently stands.

In the western world, more than half of the nitrogen-containing compounds in our bodies – in the form of proteins, amino acids and even our very DNA – was originally created in the Haber-Bosch process.

Perversely, though, for something which was invented with the intention of staving off death, it was also realised that this ammonia production process could be harnessed to make explosives as well as fertilisers. It has been estimated that the First World War would have ended two years earlier had the Germans not had access to the process – and that Hitler might never have been able to start the WWII without it – meaning that an invention which has saved billions from starvation also led to the deaths of millions.

But, just like the Victorians and their guano, a lot of people believe we have probably become far too reliant on this source of ammonia and the manufacture of the estimated 450m tonnes of fertiliser each year requires temperatures in excess of 500°C and pressures of between 200 and 300 atmospheres – a process which inevitably uses up vast amounts of energy in the form of increasingly scarce fossil fuels.

Time, perhaps, for us to start thinking about the next big breakthrough …

So now it's bye-bye Bravo ...

There certainly weren't many cries of 'Bravo' coming from Scotland's grain farmers this week when the EU announced that it was going to de-list the widely-used fungicide chlorothalonil.

This old-timer of the agro-chemical world – sold for a while under the name of Bravo – has been helping us control some of the major diseases for many years and is still viewed as a key ingredient in both barley and wheat fungicide programmes.

Despite the fact that it’s been kicking around since the 1960s, there's still no major sign of resistance building up to chlorothalonil – simply because of its multi-site mode of action which doesn't seem to apply a selection pressure on the diseases. This has seen it become a keystone in spray programmes which allow us to control some of our biggest disease threats – septoria in wheat and both rhynchosporium and ramularia in barley.

Just as the more targeted, and originally more effective, systemic fungicides, such as azoles and SDHIs, have seen resistance build up year on year when one particular mode of action is relied upon too heavily, this old workhorse had a new lease of life playing a crucial partnering role which has helped extend the lifespan of other actives by offering a diverse mode of action in tank mixes.

As I said recently in this column, while it might have been viewed as playing Robin to the newer chemistry's Batman, recently we've not only been relying more on it for the control which it offers itself but, more critically, as a resistance management tool which helps nurse the more targeted chemicals along by slowing the rate at which their mode of action is compromised.

So, it's all round bad news that its licence for use on our crops has been revoked and I strongly suspect that as it's mainly the UK and Ireland which suffer from damp climate disease scenarios which it helps control, there probably weren't too many voices speaking in its defence.

Despite the fact that our government continues to make a pig's ear of pulling the chain on our membership of the EU, it's pretty unlikely that we’ll be allowed to continue using it in the UK after we've left – deal or no deal.