THE EUROPEAN Commission has been drawing up its spending plans for the next funding period from 2021 to 2027.

These take account of the loss of UK funding, but that is not thwarting the ambitions of the Commission to have a bold plan in place. This will include a massive €100 billion for research and innovation. This is an increase of close to €20 billion. From this €10 billion has been set aside for research linked to agriculture and rural development. By any standards that is a huge amount of money, even if it has to be spread across a big industry and 27 EU member states.

Agriculture has gained massively from research over the years. This thirst for progress goes back to the 1700s when Jonathan Swift deemed those capable of 'growing two blades of grass where one grew before' more morally worthy than politicians.

Today we are probably even more sceptical about politicians, but progress in agriculture has been incredible, in terms of yields, efficiency and minimising environmental damage. This has been achieved in Scotland without relying, as has been the case on the other side of the Atlantic, on the option of genetic modification. The result is an efficient industry, capable of producing quality food at prices past generations would never have thought possible.

At lot of this is down to solid research at institutions across the UK. In recent years research has changed, with success depending on funding. That is now less likely to come from the government, which since the 1980s has had different priorities than production agriculture.

That €10 billion from the EU will extend its current Horizon 2020 programme. This has allowed collaborative and directly EU-funded projects. These are effective, since results can be accelerated when research bodies across Europe combine their efforts. This is proof of the old adage that success comes best from collaboration rather than duplication.

This is an approach that has worked well, but the question now is what will happen to those funding streams after Brexit? It is no secret that all research bodies in the UK are concerned about funding. Over the years they have become more reliant on EU-based funding programmes. These will continue, thanks to that £10 billion budget line being put in place. But after Brexit access to those funds will be somewhere between difficult and impossible.

This is a complex area, but in broad terms EU research funds, which are generally topped up by member states, have to be spent in the EU or as a second best with members of the European Economic or Free Trade areas.

Since the UK has set itself against being part of these or a customs union it will be difficult to be part of research programmes. This applies not only to agriculture, but across all research. One irony is that this is an area where the UK does well and has been a net beneficiary of EU funds. This reflects the scientific expertise the UK has, and this is something the EU will miss having access to, unless it creates a special arrangement as part of the Brexit deal.

Under Horizon 2020 the reckoning is that the UK got back over €8 billion for a contribution of €5 billion. The EU wants access to UK scientific expertise, but seeking to block UK access to the Galileo satellite programme after Brexit does not augur well for sensible decisions on science. Even if that were to be agreed, the government in London would have to be willing to continue contributing to the science and innovation programme. It is however unlikely that other countries in the EU-27 would accept the UK remaining a net beneficiary of funding.

This is all part of a wider problem for the EU of scientific expertise from the UK being lost. This is acknowledged in Brussels, but nonetheless UK experts are already having to step down from UK scientific and other committees.

Where this all leaves agricultural science in Britain is just another Brexit unknown. Agriculture needs research to remain globally competitive; our competitive edge cannot afford to lose out to €10 billion being spent in the EU-27. However membership of the research programme while outside the EU or customs union, under present rules, means paying in without any control of decisions. This will not be easily solved, but without a solution research and the future of agriculture will both suffer.