Apparently one of the signs of an approaching tsunami – the sort of giant tidal wave which can sweep away everything before it – is that in the minutes before it hits landfall with devastating consequences, the sea counterintuitively flows away from the coast, revealing acres of new beach.

Before this was a widely appreciated fact, people who were totally unaware of what was fast heading in their direction often grabbed the once in a lifetime opportunity to explore areas previously hidden under the sea – an action which often massively added to the casualty list.

With wheat sitting at more than £180 a tonne, breeding, store and fat stock all making a decent price, to a certain extent I suspect the prevailing economic circumstances in many sectors of farming could be viewed as being akin to grabbing the bucket and spade and making the most of all the new sand while the Brexit tsunami hurtles inexorably in our direction.

There are, of course, still some people who remain watching the situation unfold from the safety of the high ground. But even here you’d have to ask what is it about the human race that always sees it split into groups with diametrically opposing views on how we should face up to any approaching challenge.

The sad thing is that they never seem to be open to giving a fair hearing or evaluating the views and opinions of the other side. It’s a sad fact that fundamentalism stretches far beyond the confines of strongly held religious beliefs and currently seems to be pulling policy development in two opposing directions.

It seems to be rearing its head in our own sector more and more, especially so at the moment with Brexit throwing the direction of future farm policy and support measures up for grabs, with zealots at both extremes vying to get their voices heard.

On the one hand, there’s the sort of organic movement/nature friendly farming types who want to see us drop all pesticides, artificial fertilisers and return to a pre-Victorian farming idyll which never really existed, while on the other the gene-edited, production intensification driven, technological junkies who want to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, towards forcing every last ounce out of each acre of land.

One side makes accusations of intensification levels which threaten to harm the planet, while the other is dismissive of a ‘muck and magic approach’ which couldn’t feed a growing global population.

With echoes of the Green Revolution/Silent Spring debate of the 1970s which pitched Norman Borlaug’s push for increased production to feed a hungry world, especially in the developing nations against the environmental problems which such an approach could unleash when taken to the extreme, as outlined in Rachel Carson’s book which kick-started much of the environmental movement.

But there are some signs that a middle route, which can pic ‘n’ mix approaches from either end of this spectrum is beginning to develop. Perhaps appropriately enough, this down to earth approach had its roots in the soil – and is beginning to show itself in the field of soil science.

For while growers might have been encouraged to look upon their fields as little more than a simple substrate upon which the chemicals required by plants, such as nitrogen, phosphates and potash along with a host of micronutrients, are suspended, the huge importance of the role played by microbes and other living organisms in the soils is becoming much better appreciated and understood.

A week or so ago it was announced that, just as there are seed banks around the world – including the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, deep in the Arctic circle – which are designed to protect the huge genetic diversity of crops, a similar Noah’s Ark is being set up for the soil microbes which play such an important role in allowing our crops to develop to their full potential.

‘Microbiomes’ are all the microbes present in any one ecosystem. In this case, those associated with the crop plant, whether they are present in the leaves, seeds and stems or in the bulk soil around the roots – and a beneficial microbiome results in a healthy plant and an improved crop yield and better-quality food.

Six of the UK’s most important crops will have their associated soil organisms – otherwise known as microbiomes – held and curated as part of the UK Crop Microbiome Cryobank which is being set up by the international not-for-profit organisation Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI).

The point of the exercise is to safeguard future research and facilitate the sustainable yield improvement of these six major UK food crops – barley, oats, oilseed rape, potato and wheat.

Working in partnership with some of the country’s leading plant research centres - including SRUC, James Hutton Institute,Rothamsted Research and the John Innes Centre, the collection of soil microbes from crop systems will form the first publicly available resource of its kind anywhere in the world.

Using state-of-the art cryo research techniques to deep-freeze crop microbiome samples from different soil types across the UK the facility will allow researchers to source data and samples for their work, including living microbial material as well as genomic and metagenomic sequences (DNA) from different microbiome environments.

Giving some background to the issue, Dr Holden, who is leading the genomics and bioinformatics team at SRUC and James Hutton Institute, said: “We are at a very exciting time in our understanding of microbiomes because of advances in deep sequencing capabilities, telling us not just about the composition of the microbiomes, but also informing on their functions.

“This resource will provide base-line data for how different crop types, and the soils they are grown in, impact the microbiome. Our ambition is to provide a comprehensive resource that will be used to optimise crop production systems.”

Dr Matthew Ryan, Curator of the Genetic Resource Collection at CABI, said: “By preserving these valuable crop microbial samples, from a ‘unique snapshot in time,’ we will generate a representative, very valuable and unique resource from key UK crop systems that will become a vital resource for scientific researchers for generations to come.

“We will be using UK-developed cryotechnology that uses liquid nitrogen to keep the samples secure at very cold temperatures. If you like, it is a ‘Noah’s Ark’ of UK microbes from crop systems and one that has many potential exciting uses.”

Dr Tim Mauchline, plant and soil microbiologist at Rothamsted Research, added: “Soil health is particularly important. If we can better understand the function of microbes present in our soils we can use this information to help farmers produce sustainable crops.

“There is a clear need to increase food production and reduce our reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It is imperative that biological solutions are found to help ensure the UK’s food security.”

Maybe there’s a middle way waiting in the wings which will help us play again in the sand – and the loam and the clay ...