It’s not unusual for me to find myself in two minds at this time of year – and I often find myself torn, especially when it comes to the weather.

For a while in the arable sector there have been ‘noises of’ looking for 'a bit of rain' and I’d have to admit that some of the crops were definitely looking like they could do with a we drink and something to wash in the top-dressing –although Monday’s deluge wasn’t really called for.

Especially so when the other part of my split personality was hoping the rain would stay off for a whiley yet – at least until the hill lambing was over, as dry weather at this time of year plays a big part in securing a decent lamb crop when you’re doing the job outside on rough hill ground.

But there wasn’t really any doubt in the my mind that some of the news which came out of Brussels last week was anything but good.

On several fronts, the new European Commission report which ruled that techniques, such as gene editing, should play a key role in delivering a greener future can only be welcomed as good news. For one, it looks like an important step towards freeing up the use of this important technology in Europe.

But, on top of that, the way in which the report focused on the opportunities which products created using novel genome techniques have to contribute to sustainable food systems – producing plants more resistant to diseases, environmental conditions and climate change effects – should have the 'anti-everything' brigade questioning where their minds (and their hearts) actually lie.

Because I think that leading with an emphasis on the potential the technology has to help improve sustainability and green credentials will offer by far and away the best chance of a change of heart in Europe.

While you might ask why I’m so concerned with Europe now that we operate at arm’s length to it, a move on the Continent might help to avert a major rift in the UK internal market which could arise if England presses ahead with plans to allow such crops to be grown commercially, while the good old Scottish administration sticks doggedly to its intentions to remain aligned with the EU.

We all know that gene editing offers no silver bullet for the challenges of climate change, the dwindling armoury of pesticides and the demands of often unrealistic demands of consumers and ill-though out promises of vote-seeking politicians, but it is too important a tool to be left permanently locked up in the box.

The EU report clearly stated that techniques, such as CRISP-Cas 9, which introduces no foreign DNA but instead allow genes already present to be expressed, should be clearly differentiated and regulated separately from earlier transgenic GM techniques – which did add segments of DNA from other species.

The review’s findings stand in stark contrast to the 2018 ruling of the European Court of Justice – which was much maligned by the scientific community – to classify the products of all new precision breeding techniques as GMOs, regardless of whether they could have occurred through natural variation or conventional breeding methods. This caused the opportunities offered by many new technologies to stall across Europe.

At the time, many scientists were disappointed and upset at the decision because the ruling was based on legal argument rather than a scientific one – which only goes to show that there’s more than one type or truth out there.

The new report also concluded that the existing GMO legislation – introduced 20 years ago – is ‘not fit for purpose’ for regulating the plethora of new techniques which have been developed in the intervening period and the growing and use of their products.

It also made it plain that the regulatory processes needed to be adapted to allow all-important scientific and technological progress to continue, and to stop Western Europe becoming a scientific and technological backwater.

So, a Europe-wide consultation will now be undertaken on the issue – but the strength with which the recommendations were made and the way in which they emphasised how it could improve sustainability, can only be viewed as an important step towards greater acceptance of the technology. Plus it's a move which would bring the EU into line with many other developed nations.

Closer to home and from the point of view of Scotland’s arable sector, with a review being conducted independently in England by Defra, acceptance of the technology by the EU could avoid a major divergence in regulatory policy between Scotland and England.

Westminster has made plain that is strongly in favour of allowing the technology to be harnessed commercially, while in Scotland the SNP and Greens have stated they will maintain opposition to GM crops.

If such a divergence ever arose, then there’s absolutely no doubt Scottish growers would be put at a serious competitive disadvantage in economic and environmental terms, with English growers benefitting from cutting edge varieties which could offer so much more, while we’d be stuck in the slow lane.

But a reclassification of gene editing by Europe as being totally distinct from GM techniques, could allow an SNP administration, keen to maintain alignment with the EU, to permit gene-edited crops to be grown whilst maintaining a GM-free status.

I did notice that, speaking at a recent Scottish election hustings, rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, said that while the SNP policy remained to keep Scotland GM-free, he qualified this by also stating the country shouldn’t ‘shut its eyes and ears’ to scientific progress either.

But on that front, it was interesting to see how the scientific community reacted to the European Commission’s report.

Some institutes, notably those down south, were jumping up and down with joy. NIAB’s Dr Tina Barsby called it 'great news' which highlighted the potential benefits of novel techniques in providing faster, more precise access to genetic improvement.

Similarly the head of the British Society of Plant Breeders, Samantha Brooke, said it could signal an important step towards a more harmonised international regulatory approach – and as such represented a boost to prospects for innovative plant breeding and the benefits it could offer.

Given where much of their funding comes from, the welcome from our own James Hutton Institute was perhaps slightly less enthusiastic – with the Hutton’s director of science, Professor Lesley Torrance, simply saying that the institute welcomed the findings of the report and supported moves to address policy actions designed to harness the benefits of the technological innovations for plant science, but which also addressed concerns around them.

Interestingly, though, the report isn’t solely confined to crops – and livestock gene editing could also become more accessible.

Wonder if they could make newborn lambs a bit more waterproof?