Well, with the main part of harvest just ready for kick-off across most of Scotland, it’s typical of the weather not to play ball just yet – so it looks like there’s a fair bit of contrast between ourselves and some of the main grain growing areas south of the Border.

By all accounts, the harvest is nearly over in the more favoured areas in the south – with the weather giving them a straight run at the job without the hitches and hold-ups which have bothered them in recent years. In fact, I heard that some growers were complaining of things being just too dry!

True, another contributing factor to the early finish has probably been the fact that the crops hadn’t presented much of a challenge to the combines as they paid the price for last year’s dismal back-end and given that the limited amount of wheat that was in the ground showed the sort of yield penalties which had been widely predicted.

But while Scotland’s crops might not be looking like they will be anything to write home about, most people will be hoping that they’re not as far back on the year as has been seen elsewhere.

However, as we all know, while this might look to be the case at the moment, as usual we still have to get to the other side of the great unknown that is the harvest weather.

For that’s still an area which can trip us up and the greater risks associated with Scotland’s more variable climate and later harvest has always set us somewhat apart from many of the main grain growing areas south of the Border where the risks do, as last year showed, still exist – but just tend to be so much lower.

Growers in Scotland have come to accept that there can be significant geographic, topological, meteorological and market access differences for growers in the north and the south of the UK.

But what we have always enjoyed is a more or less equal set of legislative and regulatory burdens and controls over the whole of the UK – as well as equal access to the same selection box from which to choose the varieties which we can grow.

However that might all be about to change …

For, as The Scottish Farmer reported last week, England is set to have a public debate which could lead to the commercial growing of varieties which have been bred using new precision breeding techniques which we are, at the moment, prohibited from commercially exploiting.

Indeed, there might have been a cheer within the sector that varieties developed using new technologies, such as gene editing – which only manipulate a plants existing genome and which are far removed from the older GM techniques which introduced DNA from entirely separate species – could be grown in the UK.

Sad to say, those of us north of the Border could well be prohibited from joining in by the Scottish Government’s well rehearsed position on the growing of such varieties.

So, we have to ask if it is time for the Scottish Government to review its stance on the growing of precision-bred crops. And, whether we’re all grown up enough to have a fair and informed public discussion on how such scientific developments – which can offer both economic and environmental benefits – are adopted and utilised once the UK has left the confines of the EU, which is one of the few trading blocks which currently eschews such technologies?

For to avoid addressing the issue in a sensible and adult manner in Scotland would surely smack more than a little of political dogma.

The Scottish Government’s antipathy towards the adoption of crops developed by precision engineering dates back to the public resistance towards the early forms of genetic modification which took place back in the 1990s. Thus the outcry against scientists ‘meddling’ with genetic material now dates back almost three decades.

Let’s be fair here, though, when Monsanto sought to bring in some of the first genetically modified crops it had developed for use in the US it displayed the sort of breathtaking arrogance which immediately got the great British public’s back up.

With many of these early varieties being developed by adding genetic material from other species, proponents of this ‘mix-n-match’ approach which broke down barriers between species were accused of playing God – and the ‘Frankenfoods’ headline was soon coined.

However, as in most other areas of science, things have moved on massively in the biotech sector over the past 25 years.

One of the major areas of improvement has been in the field of gene editing, which revolves around the manipulation of genetic material which already exist in plants. This allows characteristics with the potential to provide benefits such as better disease resistance, drought tolerance and improved nutritional factors to be expressed.

Scientists point out that such techniques are simply a much quicker way of doing things which could already have been achieved with traditional breeding techniques. It simply allows genes which already exist in a plant to be ‘switched on’.

So, the vast majority of the scientific community across the EU was both shocked and disappointed when, in 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that plants bred using such techniques should be subjected to the same controls as the early GM technology. At that time their commercial adoption was effectively outlawed.

However, the EU has recently commissioned a study to look at the ruling – as it was clear from the start that it was at odds with general scientific opinion.

But when I asked the Scottish Government for its current position they said that the ECJ ruling had ‘brought clarity to the issue’ and that it was determined to stick with the precautionary approach and continue to opt out of growing such crops, sticking with current EU regulations and standards.

It also pointed out that the growing of such crops was a devolved issue and that this must not be over-ridden by the UK Government and Brexit.

While the administration added that although it fully supported the cutting-edge GM science undertaken in Scottish research laboratories, by prohibiting the growing of biotech crops the ‘clean green’ image of Scotland’s food sector would be protected.

However, this intransigence could put Scottish growers at a competitive disadvantage by denying them the economic and environmental benefits such as access to crops with better disease resistance and more resilience which offer clear benefits to food, agriculture, climate change, as well as to sustainable development.

If the sector is forced to rely on a shrinking armoury of sprays, the hoped for ‘greener’ and more sustainable future will only be less likely to materialise.

On top of this, if a different policy to that in operation in the rest of the UK is adopted, such a significant difference in the regulatory approach can only lead to a considerable distortion within the UK internal market. That will lead to the distinct possibility of Scottish growers being placed at yet a further disadvantage, to say nothing of a whole host of cross-Border issues.

So, with a consultation about to be launched on the commercial production of crops produced using precision breeding techniques in the rest of the UK – and the EU in the process of revisiting its own decisions – could I ask the Scottish Government what has the country got to lose by having its own informed debate on the subject?