Further £40m earmarked for farm connectivity improvements

29 November 2023

An image of a man using a laptop within a cattle shed. In the background you can see hay bales and cows.

Farmers and businesses in rural communities will continue to benefit from better internet connectivity, with further funds announced in the 2023 Autumn Statement.

Ten areas across the UK will receive a share of the a £40 million fund which aims to transform the areas into “5G Innovation Regions”.

This includes installing 5G networks in remote locations to support farming activities, such as GPS or drone monitoring systems. 

Sussex County Council has been allocated £3.8 million to develop and scale 5G technology that will “support future farming and growing practices that increase sustainable food and drink productivity”. 

Meanwhile, Shropshire Council has been awarded £3.7 million to embed wireless technology that will support innovation in rural industries, water management and public services.

Other areas in the UK have been awarded the funding for uses such as improving smart road systems, manufacturing and tourism.

“This funding is essential for farmers as various aspects of their work rely on consistent access to the internet. It’s also vital for health and safety, with many farmers needing reliable mobile coverage to call for help if needed.”

NFU Vice President David Exwood

Increased productivity prospects for farmers 

The new announcement comes off the back of the NFU's campaigning for better digital infrastructure in rural areas. The NFU's recent Digital Technology Survey highlighted that more than a fifth of members believe their broadband speeds are a barrier to their further use of digital technology.

Over a third of members also said that if their business had faster broadband speeds, they would use this to improve their speed, efficiency, and frequency of business tasks.

The new announcement means that there is more opportunity for businesses in remote areas to make use of new technologies for agriculture and tourism that may require internet connectivity on farm.

The new funds are in addition to £7 million announced in June 2023 to improve rural broadband connectivity through satellite, wireless and fixed line connections.

The government’s flagship £5 billion Project Gigabit programme also aims to improve internet speeds in hard to reach areas across the country.

Continued commitment welcomed

Commenting on the new funding announcement, NFU Vice President David Exwood said: “It’s encouraging to see the government’s commitment to boosting digital connectivity in rural areas through the newly announced £36 million 5G network connectivity fund.

He stressed that rural connectivity was “vital” for farmers, adding: “This funding is essential for farmers as various aspects of their work, from submitting VAT returns to GPS on tractors, rely on consistent access to the internet. It’s also vital for health and safety, with many farmers often working long hours and therefore needing reliable mobile coverage to call for help if needed.

“While this is a positive step forward, we also urge the government to continue its investment and roll-out of alternative broadband options for rural areas and focus on the delivery of the Shared Rural Network, to ensure reliable and fast internet access for rural communities.”

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