FARMING MATTERS: Rural broadband needs to be priority

The National Farmers Union has said the government must ensure that every farming business can access next generation superfast broadband and complete mobile technology across the farm.

The NFU has also asked the government to allow full delivery of the government’s agri-tech and industrial strategies and lay the foundations for fifth generation (5G) technology.

In a response to the consultation on the future of telecoms infrastructure, the NFU has used evidence from its unique member survey to highlight the growing rural-urban divide.

In summer 2017 only nine per cent of farmers surveyed could confirm they receive broadband speeds of 24Mbps or more and only 15 per cent had a reliable outdoor phone signal across the farm.

NFU vice president Guy Smith said: “It’s very frustrating for farmers who waste time every day due to poor connections and cannot take advantage of on-farm technology.

“One member spent two and a half hours trying to set up a banking service, thwarted by a broadband service that kept dropping out.

“Another explained how it was not possible to gain real time information from contractors and agronomists.

“A third could not contact their vet and a fourth explained wider rural services, such as their holiday and business letting services, had been impacted. Visitors did not want to come to an unconnected countryside. Many NFU members had health and safety concerns.”

Mr Smith also called on the government to use the telecommunications review to assess the true cost to business, consumers and to the public purse if services cannot be provided online.

He added: “Farm businesses are facing challenges and opportunities, which include increased productivity while managing the environment and mitigating price volatility.”

He said UK digital communications needed to be fit for purpose to enable global trading.