So, I found myself wondering a week or two ago, is this what harvest time is like in other countries?

For, with the exception of a couple of damp days, the combining was pretty much a straight run from start to finish this year.

Although some of the usual pressure to push on and make the best use of every dry hour before the weather broke remained deeply enough etched in our psyche to ensure that we took nothing for granted – including the weather forecasts – in the majority of cases, the next day surprised us by clearing up enough at some stage to offer another chance to get more cut.

Even when there was a bit of haar hanging, or some mizzle in the wind, these events were often so localised that although it might have been a too damp to cut a particular field, you often didn’t need to travel much more than half a mile to another field to find things dry enough to get started there.

So, while the 2021 harvest might not have been returning record-breaking yields, the fact that most of the crops were cut in 15-17% moisture range (with some of the oats coming off the field at under 13%) the cost of drying was negligible. Plus, the disappointment of shrinkage between what we thought came off the combine and what actually went away in lorries, should be a good deal less than it would under the more normal harvesting conditions we’re used to in Scotland.

One thing we did discover as we tried to pile grain up alongside the central passage in one of the stores, while still leaving room to drive past what had been dumped, however, was the fact that it’s much more difficult to get wheat to pile up at 16% moisture than it is at the more normal 20(+)%.

Who knew?

Another unusual situation we came across was the fact that while we might have been spared at least some of the usual anxieties over the moisture of malting barley lying in the temporary stores as we experienced the inevitable delays over the appearance of lorries, this was replaced by some worries about the temperatures at which it was coming into the shed.

With loads often coming off the combine at close to 30°C, the grain spear fans usually used to prevent hot spots developing in damp grain didn’t get a year off and were running every night and most of the day to make sure that the temperature was dragged down to a safer level for the grain to sit, even for a short spell.

But I know there are still areas and pockets with a bit left to cut so I’ll confine my comments on this year’s harvest to those few edited highlights.

On which note, in other news there seems to have been a right old push going on in recent weeks to garner wider support for new breeding technologies, such as gene editing.

First off the blocks was the announcement that the UK Government had given the go-ahead for a series of field trials to be carried out on wheat that has been genome edited – marking the first outdoor trials of CRISPR-edited wheat anywhere in the UK, or, indeed, in Europe.

The wheat, which will be grown by the UK’s Rothamsted Research institute has been edited to reduce levels of the naturally occurring amino acid, asparagine, which can be converted to the carcinogenic processing contaminant, acrylamide, when bread is baked or toasted.

The ultimate aim of the project is to produce ultra-low asparagine, non-GM wheat, said Professor Nigel Halford, who is leading the project at the institute which has been to the forefront in pioneering the use of novel breeding techniques.

“Acrylamide has been a very serious problem for food manufacturers since being discovered in food in 2002,” said Halford, who added that it caused cancer in rodents and was considered ‘probably carcinogenic’ for humans.

“It occurs in bread and increases substantially when the bread is toasted, but is also present in other wheat products and many crop-derived foods that are fried, baked, roasted or toasted, including crisps and other snacks, chips, roast potatoes and coffee.”

And while there might be more than a little irony in the fact that the promise of safer toast might the route to gain acceptance for newer breeding techniques, Professor Halford said he believed toast could be made safer by reducing asparagine levels substantially in the flour from wheat without compromising grain quality.

“This would benefit consumers by reducing their exposure to acrylamide from their diet, and food businesses by enabling them to comply with regulations on the presence of acrylamide in their products,” he said.

It is anticipated that the project will run for up to five years – but while funding is in place for the first year, additional support is being sought for the subsequent years.

Though the trials will see plants produced using the older technique of chemical mutagenesis to reach the same end, Halford said that CRISPR technology allowed the sort of small targeted changes which were necessary to be made to a specific gene – comparing the new technique to using a scalpel rather than a lump hammer.

It has to be admitted that the process initially involved genetic modification to introduce genes required for the CRISPR process into the plant, but once the edit had been made the GM part could be removed from the plants by conventional plant breeding methods over a few generations.

Of course, it can’t be forgotten that the go-ahead for the trials takes place at a time when the UK Government is considering the responses to the English consultation on the wider use of technologies such as gene editing, which had previously been hampered by EU legislation.

Just a few days later, an independent report produced for the UK Government by the Regulatory Horizons Council claimed that permitting the use of new breeding technologies offered the UK not only the opportunity to transform agri-food systems, making them more sustainable and biodiversity friendly, but also the chance to take the lead in Europe in attracting investment in such techniques.

It also said that a less emotional attitude towards the regulation of genetic technologies offered the potential for developing nutritionally healthier crop varieties with disease resistance, reduced insecticide and fungicide use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved climate resilience, while contributing to sustainability and biodiversity conservation.

And in this day and age, what’s not to like about that?

The report also pointed out that the UK could take advantage of its departure from the EU to restructure regulation, making it more scientifically credible, proportionate to both risks and benefits, as well as providing more certainty to businesses looking to invest in these technologies.

Drawn up by experts in the field, the report suggested that changes to the regulatory system could significantly reduce the cost and time to market for new products, unlocking innovation in the development of plant and animal varieties which benefit consumers, the environment and long-term economic growth in the UK.

Though the report was widely welcomed by many scientists and researchers working in plant breeding, I couldn’t help but wonder how it would be received in our own new and greener corridors of power at Holyrood.

For there was some word that there might have been a bit of a thaw on the cards on the Scottish Government’s oft-repeated line that the growing of such crops would not be allowed in Scotland in order to retain the country’s clean, green image.

The slight signs of relaxation might have been due to the fact that the EU, with which the administration wants to remain as closely aligned as possible, has been carrying out its own review of 2018 ruling which imposed such stringent regulation on the growing of gene edited crops.

However, with the SNP’s new tie up with the Scottish Greens, we could well see that emerging détente challenged.

But, then again, would the Scottish Green Party vote against a technique which offers (deep breath…) the promise of nutritionally healthier crop varieties with better disease resistance requiring less insecticide and fungicide use with reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved climate resilience – and which also contributes to sustainability and biodiversity conservation?

So, maybe we will be able to look forward to a future with edited highlights after all.