Despite small improvements made to rural connectivity in the last year, mobile signal and broadband speeds are still not adequate for farming businesses, the NFU‘s Digital Technology Survey has revealed.
Only 21% of farmers reported reliable connectivity across their whole farm and fewer than half have broadband speeds suitable for their business. One in 20 say they have no signal on their farm at all.
Multiple tasks, including submitting reports, tractor GPS and communicating with customers all rely on broadband and phone signal and farmers rely on this to run their businesses effectively. In addition, mobile phone signal is critical for health and safety when farmers and contractors often work alone.
The NFU is calling for the Shared Rural Network to remain a government priority and be completed 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 of 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 increasingly 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.”