Slow broadband speeds and patchy mobile coverage remain major barriers to improving on farm productivity and the uptake of digital technology, the NFU said today.
Despite welcome improvements in access to 4G services and an increase in access to superfast broadband (16% of members compared with 4% in 2015), the NFU’s latest broadband and mobile member survey highlights a clear need for better coverage to support farmers in maximising the opportunities that digital technology can provide for their businesses.
NFU Vice President Stuart Roberts said: “It’s vital that government ensures rural businesses have access to the same reliable broadband and mobile connectivity as urban businesses so they can remain productive, competitive and innovative.
“The benefits that farmers receive from applying full connectivity are many; from optimising the use of inputs to decreasing farm costs and improving productivity as a result.
“With the industry facing so much uncertainty, it is clear that farmers need as many tools as possible to maintain business resilience, and having access to digital connectivity is paramount if they are to compete with our international neighbours in the global market.
“After all, it can be much easier for companies and organisations located in towns and cities to relocate to access different technologies. But this simply isn’t possible for a farm or rural business – connectivity needs to be brought to them.
“Decent telecommunication and 4G coverage is also essential for health and safety with farmers often working long hours alone in isolated areas. Too often we see the consequences of farming’s poor safety record. It should be a given that if an accident happens, farmers have access to reliable mobile coverage in all farm locations to call for help.
“At the recent Oxford Farming Conference, Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove reminded delegates that in the Budget the government announced that it would invest a further £200m over the next two years providing full-fibre broadband in rural areas.
“As an industry, we will hold the government to that promise of ensuring the very best levels of digital connectivity across rural Britain.”
:: The 2018 NFU survey is based on 812 NFU members responding to a random telephone survey or online survey from 29 August – 12 October, 2018 and providing their actual coverage experience. The survey captures data not collected by others, for example as many farms fall within postcodes with less than four broadband lines and such geographical areas not reported on by Ofcom for data protection reasons.
Full results from the 2018 NFU broadband and digital member survey can be found here.
Britain’s food and farming sector is currently worth £113 billion to the UK economy, employing 3.9 million people.