With the weather intent on doing its best to ruin a year’s work coinciding with the politician’s botched efforts on Brexit doing their bit to ruin a lifetime’s work, it’s been a bit of a challenge to find anything cheery to write about this week.

Returning from the morning’s round of checking the stock the other day, the fact that all I could hear was the rush of water coming from the burns and ditches, rather than the persistent whine of driers or the drone of distant combines hammered home the fact that we were well into harvest this time last year.

While no two years are ever the same, the contrast between 2018 and 2019 could hardly be greater. And the difference between last year’s ‘bonsai’ barley and drought-ravaged wheat, and this year’s long-legged, headstrong growth has been taking its toll as the rain pushes the crops to – and beyond – the lodging point.

So, after a pretty easy time last year, I suspect that the combines are going to be dealt a bit more of a challenge when (or if!) the weather ever manages to give us a bit of a break to get on with main event of harvest.

But getting on with some of the harvest would at least give us to something to focus on other than the current phoney war of Brexit which, despite endless bluster, has seen no proper engagement between the EU and the UK on how our future relationship is going to develop.

Can it only be me that finds it nigh on unbelievable that Parliament hasn’t been recalled during what is surely the greatest political threat to the country in more than a generation?

But despite this lack of any effort from the politicians, Brexit certainly still seems to be having an effect on the markets. The continued uncertainty over the trading conditions which we’re going to face only a month or two down the line is undoubtedly managing to drag prices back.

Even in the face of a devalued pound, which should be seeing farmgate prices on the up, the price of grain has been going down faster over the last couple of weeks than a field of long-strawed oats in a thunderstorm.

For although the usual external factors like this week’s USDA report will have an influence, on the home front the outcome of Brexit will see much more emphasis on domestic production levels. The likelihood of tariffs means that it will be all but impossible to export our way out of even a minor surplus – and it doesn’t take much of an oversupply in the market to have considerable consequences for prices.

It also looks to be a pretty dead cert that the arable sector isn’t likely to benefit much from the proceeds of the new Prime Minister’s magic money tree – with any spare which is left over by the tooth fairy for the farming sector already earmarked for the livestock boys.

However, Boris’s largesse – which seems to involve promising unicorns for everyone – might see a change in policy which could have benefits down the line for the arable sector.

A promise to scientists that he would loosen the EU fetters on the biotech sector and possibly allow techniques, such as gene editing – which only really speeds up old-fashioned breeding programmes by allowing things to be much better targeted – to be put to commercial use, might just have come at the right time.

The possibilities of using these new techniques to breed varieties which have a resilient resistance to the long list of diseases which we currently have to treat with expensive agrochemicals has long been discussed – and there’s no doubt that this could reap huge rewards.

But some work published last week has also hinted at what might possibly be an even greater benefit to humankind – in terms of both securing food supplies and drastically reducing our use of fossil fuels.

For, while the gnarly old nut hasn’t yet been fully cracked, scientists have taken a step closer to finding a way for cereals and other plant species to emulate legumes in being able to fix their own nitrogen requirements from the air.

Incorporating the symbiotic relationship which occurs between legumes and soil bacteria, known as rhizobia, in the root nodules of plants like peas, beans and clover into our major cereal crops has long been viewed as a holy grail – but all attempts to do this had proved to be pretty much fruitless.

However, the findings of a research collaboration between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge published in the last few weeks has shown that it is possible to engineer a novel synthetic plant-microbe signalling pathway that could provide the foundation for transferring just such and ability to fix nitrogen to cereals.

The team of plant scientists, microbiologists and chemists used synthetic biology techniques to design and then engineer what they termed a molecular dialogue between plants and the bacteria surrounding their roots.

Such a communication between plant roots and the necessary soil bacteria could open the door to engineering nitrogen-fixing symbiosis in non-legume crops such as wheat and maize – offering enormous potential for improving crop yields on poor soils and dramatically reducing the industry’s reliance on bagged fertilisers.

Not only would this create significant savings in the amount of fossil fuels required to grow crops, there would be a big reduction in the emissions of nitrous oxides – a greenhouse gas which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide – which can result from the breakdown of artificial fertilisers, such as ammonium nitrate, especially in the sort of cold wet soils often found in Scotland.

Apparently, most plants influence the soil micro-organisms which surround their roots by sending out chemical signals which can attract or suppress specific microbes – and encouraging the right microbes could potentially enable them to take advantage of the growth-promoting services of those bacteria, including nitrogen fixation.

One other major benefit of setting up such a system would be the fact that by manipulating the synthetic signalling pathway in the target species, only the crop plants producing the signal would benefit.

This means that weeds – which currently benefit just as much as the target crop from the application of chemical fertilisers – would not benefit from these enhanced plant-microbe associations. They wouldn’t produce the signalling molecule to communicate with bacteria.

And while it might sound like a piece of science fiction which might take years to deliver, it’s the closest thing I could find to good news this week!