Ask someone to think of a farm and they tend to conjure up an idyllic rustic scene full of hay bales, pitchforks and roaring log fires. The reality is somewhat different however. Farmers are increasingly reliant on modern technology for their day-to-day operations and this includes having access to a fast and reliable broadband connection.
The need for connectivity
The issue of funding is one example of the modern farmer’s need for connectivity. Many farmers are reliant on government and European Union grants to survive. In the past, this funding could be applied for by paper, but like so much of modern life it is now becoming digital and without access to the web, farm owners may miss out.
Another example is e-commerce. There is a growing market for farm-grown foods in the UK, with people keen to buy produce directly from a farm shop due to health and environmental concerns. This can provide a valuable source of income for farmers and so long as they have a reliable internet connection, an online store can be established, meaning they can sell their goods to people all over their local area and possibly even further afield.
There are also the day-to-day basics to consider. Having access to the web has become vital for a lot of people’s daily lives and farmers are no different. Whether it’s allowing their children to keep up with homework, buying goods online or watching TV, farmers benefit just as much from the internet as people in urban areas.
The current situation
While farmers have a clear need for connectivity, many are currently struggling with extremely slow and unreliable broadband services. The quality of internet access is poor across most UK rural communities in general, but the problem tends to be most severe on farms due to their remote locations.
In January 2014, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) warned the lack of connectivity on farms means many individuals will be unable to apply for their funding in the near future. This has also been highlighted by the Tenants Farmers Association and is clearly an important subject for the industry.
Research from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in April 2013 revealed 60 per cent of UK farms are relying on connection speeds of less than two Mbps, which is considered the absolute minimum requirement for modern broadband. Meanwhile, some six per cent of farmers were found to still be using outdated dial-up internet services.
But what can farmers do to improve their connectivity? The government is currently working to bring super-fast broadband to 90 per cent of the UK and some farms will benefit from this. However, many will miss out as the final ten per cent will largely be comprised of the rural areas in which farms are situated. Farmers in these places may benefit from looking into alternative technologies, such as satellite broadband internet. Indeed, the potential of satellite has been recognised by the government, which has cited it as one of the best ways to improve internet access in the country’s hardest-to-reach areas.
Whatever way farmers manage to improve their connectivity, it is vital they do so, as just like with any other modern business, the web has become a vital component on the path to growth and success.