'One crucial, area where Brexit might just give agriculture an edge in the UK over the EU is in gene editing'

It might not feel like it when trying to balance still high input costs against static or falling prices, but in global terms agriculture is a financially stable industry.

It does not soar when the rest of the economy booms, but neither does it plunge when the wider economy falls. That now looks very attractive.

The headlines this week all point to gathering financial storm clouds. The International Monetary Fund has suggested the world could face another financial crisis, led by more banking collapses and poor growth in the face of inflation, the control of which through higher interest rates is slowing an already weak global economy.

Most G7 countries are facing poor growth prospects, with the UK worst. Indeed UK growth prospects are now worse than those of even Russia.

This makes the fundamentally boring and conservative nature of farming look attractive. Tax reasons apart, agricultural land has always been a blue chip long term proposition. Now that is even more the case.

The No 2 on that list – commercial property for offices – looks a lot less attractive in the wake of the post-Covid phenomenon of more and more people working from home. Regardless of wider economic fortunes people have to eat; they might seek to save money by trading down, but in economic terms the demand for food is constant.

As we face into economic times that could be even more uncertain, farmers can take comfort from being part of an industry that has welcome insulation against the tougher times that lie ahead.

Sadly, in the UK, the true value of a food producing farming industry is not recognised by the government. It sees farming as a way to deliver its largely unproven green aspirations while food takes a back seat, in expectation that food will be taken care of by cheap imports as a result of post-Brexit trade deals.

For a government presiding over a weak economy in an uncertain world, that is a risky high wire act.

READ MORE: EU forecasts still reflected in UK prices

Brexit has failed just about every test to live up to the promises from those who advocated a leave vote in 2016. This is particularly true in agriculture, where farmers remain tied to the same, or worse, green policies and red tape than the CAP, but crucially without the funding guaranteed to farmers in the EU.

Brexit has certainly not delivered the outward looking, profitable, progressive industry the leave vote advocates promised farmers. But now there is at least one small, but crucial, area where Brexit might just give agriculture an edge in the UK over the EU.

This is in gene editing, with the Bill to allow this making steady progress at Westminster. This is a devolved issue, but in reality plant breeding cannot be corralled by borders within the UK.

If it is, that would be down to politics again getting in the way of science. The government showed some rare wisdom by referring to these techniques as precision breeding, allowing it to shake off links to genetic modification.

Where the crucial difference lies is that gene editing or precision breeding is about altering the genes within a plant's genome, without introducing another species. This counters criticism of GM and opens the way to accelerating beneficial traits in the same way as would be achieved a lot more slowly by conventional breeding.

The EU, at a European Commission level, is equally enthusiastic about this science, but it is seemingly again getting bogged down in its complex advisory committees and some negative comments about the techniques.

These are unlikely to be fatal to the thinking, but they are reawakening past issues around the anti-science stance of some member states and pressure groups. This is one area where Brexit could deliver a speedier and better outcome, but beyond decisions allowing gene editing the government must be willing to invest in the science.

Precision breeding is a good term and the EU has also tried to separate it from generic modification by referring to the science as novel genomic techniques. This is science that makes a lot of sense.

Lessons have been learned from the mistakes in how GM was communicated in a way that allowed it to be demonised while the potential benefits were ignored.

Call it what you will, gene editing is a sound way ahead and a green approach to reduced chemical use and an area where Brexit could finally deliver.