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Farming Matters: Hefin Jones - 'It is high time high speed broadband reached all rural areas'

The wardrobe, the dictionary and cyberspace. If nothing else, the lockdown has seen a fast-tracking of numerous changes. Some of them were in the pipeline already. Some of them have been a bolt from the blue.

Hefin Jones - Beef farmer and NFU Cymru Carmarthenshire vice-chairman
Hefin Jones - Beef farmer and NFU Cymru Carmarthenshire vice-chairman

We have witnessed resilience as many businesses and organisations were fleet footed in the way they adjusted their ‘normal’ activities to secure the ability to trade and to support their communities.

 

This resilience will certainly be tested for a while yet. The hourglass of society, in one fell swoop, was turned over.

 

Those people who had for so long been considered the bottom of the pile in terms of importance were suddenly hailed as Covid heroes, with their roles and contributions finally recognised as being essential to a functioning society.

 

Fashion has changed. Never did I imagine a shirt and tie would be acceptable to wear with shorts and slippers (thanks to camera shot).

 

Vocabulary has had to change. ‘Zoom’, ‘Meet’, ‘teams’ and ‘mute’ have developed a new nuance.

 

‘Tracking’ is no longer just an adjustment at the tyre garage and ‘tracing’ no longer simply requires greaseproof paper and a pencil.

 

Although largely outside the hustle and bustle of cities and centres of commerce, farming and rural communities have not been immune to the economic impacts of the pandemic. Many supply chains fell into immediate disarray as the effect of lockdown kicked in.

 

Aside from the Agriculture Bill, Trade Bill and the future of support for agriculture, there are other issues for rural communities to contend with in the context of economic recovery and the future.


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’Normal’

 

Recent figures suggest 49 per cent of UK working adults are now working from home, compared to 5 per cent before the pandemic. Many organisations and companies have strongly suggested that going back to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’ will not happen.

 

They acknowledge environmental and work-life balance advantages while work can be done effectively from home in the main.

 

Farm inspections have been conducted remotely where possible and many knowledge transfer events are now delivered via webinars or ‘live’ social media.

 

All of this relies on the internet and capacity to work effectively online, as does efficient engagement with rural payment agencies and the livestock movement service. Many will argue it is all part and parcel of the ‘new normal’.

 

At the end of 2017, the Government announced a requirement for internet providers to afford ’everyone access to high speed broadband by 2020’.

 

Sadly, it appears just as unlikely the high speed broadband commitment will be honoured by the end of this year as it would that a reputable optician might endorse the Dominic Cummings’ ‘take a drive with your wife’ test to diagnose eyesight problems.

 

Since we find ourselves in a time where equality is a hot topic, it is fair to say that in terms of internet access, some areas are more equal than others.

 

As with access to banks, public transport, and a whole raft of other services, rural areas are very often suffering the frustration of being at the bottom of the internet ladder in terms of speed and stability.

 

Our industry has seen the development of some fantastic software packages to streamline work, but despite having an ‘offline working’ feature, most systems will require access to the internet at some point to be effective.

 

If our governments want farmers to work ‘smarter’ and if professionals will increasingly be working from home, possibly from their own Shangri-La in the countryside, it is high time governments make good on commitments and knuckle down to provide high speed broadband for everyone, however rural their location.

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