NFU survey shows more work is needed to improve rural connectivity

24 May 2023

Man with a phone held to his ear standing next to a wire fence, with green fields behind him.

Farming businesses’ ability to meet the challenges of the future are being held back by poor broadband and mobile connectivity, the NFU’s latest Digital Technology Survey has revealed.

Despite rural connectivity improving slightly in the last year, only 21% of farmers overall have reliable mobile signals across their whole farm, and fewer than half reported broadband speeds which they say are adequate for their business. One in twenty farmers report that they have no reliable outdoor mobile signal on their farm at all.

Submitting VAT returns, GPS on tractors, talking to customers and much more all rely on strong connectivity, and consistent access to the internet is needed for farmers so they can comply with UK regulations and operate their businesses efficiently. Mobile signal is also critically important for health and safety, in an industry where farmers often need to work in remote areas on their own.

To achieve this the NFU is calling for the Shared Rural Network to remain a government priority and be finished by 2025; broadband schemes to apply to all types of broadband access, not just fibre; and support for farmers to access agricultural-specific digital skills training.

NFU Vice President David Exwood said, “In a time when food security is so prevalent on the government’s agenda, we need to produce more of what we do well here. This means being as efficient and productive as possible, and access to the internet is vital for businesses to do this.

“Even with the positive increase in access to superfast broadband for over a third of respondents, it is unacceptable that 4 out of 5 farmers do not have reliable mobile signals throughout their farm. Not only does this impact the day-to-day running of rural businesses, but it is dangerous to leave a farmer with no way of communicating in a time of crisis. Ultimately, this lack of access is preventing UK farmers and growers from doing what they do best – producing homegrown, climate-friendly, and affordable food.

“Our results show that we need a really concentrated effort from the government and telecommunications industry to reach the most remote areas still without coverage if we want to achieve the Shared Rural Network’s aim to deliver 4G connectivity across the UK by 2025. While the introduction of 5G to some rural areas is encouraging, as it supports the introduction of new technologies and more productive business practices on farm, this year’s survey shows that connectivity is only increasing slowly, and the farming industry is still lagging significantly behind the rest of the country.

“We will continue to campaign for investment in the country’s digital technology infrastructure - which is key to productive farming businesses - on top of our asks for proper training and appropriate schemes for farmers and growers so they can meet their huge potential in helping to tackle climate change and deliver on our net-zero ambitions.”

More information

  • The results of the 2023 Digital Technology survey summarise a snapshot of farmer connectivity from 814 farmers and growers surveyed between 14 Dec 2022 to 24 Feb 2023.
  • Statistics from the survey:
    • Mobile
      • 50% of members believe they have an acceptable mobile signal, which is 6% better than last year.
      • 21% of members have reliable mobile signals across their whole farm, which is 4% more than last year.
      • 80% of members have access to 4G on their mobiles and 10% have access to 5G. 10% remain without access to either.
    • Broadband
      • Fewer than half (48%) of members have broadband speeds adequate for business needs (10% better than last year)
      • 18% have broadband speeds of less than 2 Mbps (12% fewer than last year)
      • 36% had superfast (24Mbps+) broadband speeds (up 12% from last year), however, other members still report prohibitive costs for installation.
      • 67% of respondents with standard broadband have not been offered superfast broadband.