The Scottish Farmer:

Harvest is always an exciting time on the farm, no matter how good we may think our crops are modern combines soon provide accurate yields.

My father’s old cropping books tell me that a good crop of spring barley in 1943 could be 1.5 tons per acre. Over the next 20 years traditional plant breeding methods led to a gradual improvement in yields.

By the early 1960s the most popular variety of spring barley in Scotland was Ymer, which could yield two tons per acre. Then, in 1968, I was lucky enough to be there when something quite extraordinary happened, that would prove a game changer.

We grew Golden Promise barley and for the first time yields of three tons per acre were achievable and still are today. My neighbours, at Abercrombie Farm, still grow superb crops of Golden Promise – not only achieving excellent yields, but paid a handsome premium.

As we debate the growing of genetically engineered plants, consider the story of Golden Promise, which has been such a huge success. Golden Promise is a gamma-ray induced semi-dwarf mutant of the cultivar Maythorpe. As a former governor of the SCRI, in Dundee, I have it on the highest authority that Golden Promise can be described as a genetically modified barley.

The benefit of mutation breeding to create Golden Promise is that this variety simply could never have been created by any other means. It has traits that will help plant breeders in the future cope with climate change. Traits such as drought tolerance and ability to cope better with salinity.

For the end user, Golden Promise has proved to be popular with distillers and craft brewers. The Macallan is one of our most famous malt whiskies and is enjoyed in every corner of the world – for many years every bottle was distilled from Golden Promise.

However, the Holy Grail for plant breeders is to develop a cereal, such as wheat, that can synthesise nitrogen from the atmosphere. The air we breathe contains 78% nitrogen. Imagine a world where we no longer need to rely on ammonium nitrate! Or current potato varieties that can acquire blight resistance as a result of gene editing.

The Irish potato famine was caused by blight as the variety, Lumper, had no resistance to this devastating disease. At that time, 1845-1849, the crop failed and 1m people died of starvation – four times as many that would later die from the Spanish flu.

Golden Promise was produced by a more scatter gun method of genetic engineering and yet it has proved a success. Imagine what we can achieve today with more highly sophisticated and precise methods such as gene editing.

Now is the time to cast off the shackles of EU regulations and let the UK lead the way in plant genetics to produce healthy foods. Consumers and farmers, should come together with our leading scientists and lets have an open debates based on fact ... not fiction.