The vast majority of farmers in England and Wales do not have a reliable mobile phone signal, with broadband speeds also posing a challenge.

That is according to the results of a survey by the UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which found only 18% of British farmers had a reliable indoor signal and 42% had to look for specific spots for signal when they were outdoors.

And, while only 5% did not use the internet, the survey found that just 6% of British farmers had access to superfast download speeds. The majority could not get broadband outdoors either.

In terms of device coverage, the research revealed that 57% of farmers owned a smartphone but 63% had tablets. Additionally, 79% accessed the internet through a copper wire infrastructure, compared to 6% who relied on satellite.

In a rapid shift for coverage of the fourth generation in mobile internet – 4G – 75% of farmers with smartphones now have access to high speed wireless internet – compared to 2015, when 70% said they did not have 4G.

Competitive disadvantage

NFU Vice President, Guy Smith, called on the UK government to “wake up” and prioritise the rollout of superfast broadband to all farms across the country.

He said: “More than ever, farmers need to use digital technologies to help them farm more efficiently and to fully utilise emerging technology such as robotics and GPS.

The ever-growing digital divide between urban and rural workplaces needs to be bridged. Government should recognise that, internationally, the UK is trailing behind other countries, putting our farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

“That’s why we are calling on government to adopt a much more ambitious approach to finding ways to get superfast broadband to those areas that need it most.”

Meanwhile in Ireland, rural broadband plans were recently boosted when Comreg cut a €78 million deal for the rights to broadcast on the part of the radio spectrum expected to be used for the next generation of mobile internet – 5G.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten said this should mean an 86% increase in spectrum capacity to meet the growing demand for mobile and wireless broadband across rural areas.