NFU Scotland asked its members to take part in its inaugural connectivity survey, to get a clearer idea of mobile and broadband connectivity issues currently affecting Scotland’s farmers and crofters.
Between November 19, 2020 and January 4, 2021 the union received 398 responses to questions exploring the key connectivity difficulties being faced by those in the agricultural sector.
The findings show that Scottish farmers and crofters feel left behind in the digital era as they continue to face barriers to improved mobile and internet connections, with 77% of respondents describing their connection as ‘not fit for current or future needs’.
Union members also consider that poor broadband connection acts as an obstacle to innovation by limiting new ways of working and utilising technology.
78% of members believe their business is limited by their existing internet connection, and 57% believe their broadband connection is a barrier to diversifying their farm businesses.
Mobile phone signal
Considering mobile connections, poor signal remains a challenge, with 48% of respondents describing the quality of their mobile signal in their home/office as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.
42% of participants described having to adopt special measures to overcome weak signal e.g. using shortwave radio to keep in contact with staff or family for health and safety reasons.
With the added challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, poor connectivity has limited businesses' ability to adapt to the greater reliance on virtual communication, leading to greater feelings of isolation.
Poor internet connections were cited as a barrier to attending learning opportunities such as webinars, where physical meetings had been prevented.
On the results of the survey, NFU Scotland vice-president Robin Traquair, said: "The pandemic has placed even more pressure on an inequitable landscape.
"Our members have reported huge issues with rural broadband and mobile connectivity, and it is vital to address this problem to unlock the potential in our countryside.
Our members highlighted that a better connection would have hugely positive benefits on their businesses; from significant efficiency gains, to improved market access and growth, alongside reduced emotional burden.
"The potential for stemming rural depopulation, diversification opportunities, and promoting greater investment into rural enterprises are also well understood.
“However, the digital divide continues to grow. Many of our members are the hardest to reach and face the greatest financial burdens to becoming connected.
"This is not a future problem; it is negatively impacting our farming and crofting communities and businesses now, and must be addressed urgently," he concluded.