Many people think that the farming and agricultural sector is one of the least likely to need access to a broadband connection – but reality couldn’t be any further from this idea.
The likes of the NFU and CLA have been campaigning for years for the Government to prioritise improved broadband and mobile phone coverage for rural businesses across the UK, and it seems that they are beginning to be heard, with the Government making broadband provision to all a priority on its current agenda.
So, how does poor mobile and broadband coverage affect farmers and agricultural businesses?
Over the recent years, agricultural technology has come on leaps and bounds, with software now advanced enough to keep online field records, mapping, water management, livestock records, accounting etc. and machinery that can virtually operate itself. Without access to connectivity, the full range of agri-tech and software available cannot be used.
Somewhat hypocritically, the Government is expecting all farming regulatory compliance to eventually go online, however, at the moment digital access is preventing this from happening. If access were available, this will ensure farmers become more efficient and are able to save time in paper-based admin worked.
Connectivity will enable farmers to become more time-efficient and help to save money. In order to get phone signal, agricultural workers are often forced to travel back and forth to spots where they can a signal, making it difficult to coordinate staff, suppliers, contractors and other works. Access to fast broadband will also encourage the farming community to diversify, perhaps in the form of promoting leisure and tourism and making the most of assets such as free barn/office space for rental.
Taking all into consideration, health and safety is probably the most important reason for needing mobile and broadband access. It has been found that agricultural workers experience 20 times the amount of fatal injuries of that across all other industries. A lot of agricultural workers also work on their own, and without mobile phone signal, emergency help cannot be called when needed. In terms of keeping premises and employees safe and secure, CCTV is essential in tackling rural crimes, and often requires high speed broadband.
“A true digital economy is one where businesses take full advantage of the possibilities and benefits offered by digital technologies, both to improve their efficiency and productivity, as well as to reach customers and realise sales. Businesses in the United Kingdom are not fully taking advantage of these possibilities.” “Digital Agenda for Europe (October 2015). This is one of the seven pillars of the “Europe 2020 Strategy” which sets objectives for the growth of the EU economy by 2020.
To find out more about mobile coverage and broadband for farmers and rural areas, read the NFU’s Spotlight on Farm Broadband & Mobile Networks here.