Community engagement: Farming

    Case Study added by North Yorkshire County Council on 4 Feb 2021
Farming is a way of the North Yorkshire Dales life – 2,683 people were directly employed in the rural land-based sector in 2017 (Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority). The industry has developed over the past 50 years and now digitalisation is an integral part of modern agriculture (Cambridge Pre

Yet, parts of the Dales has limited connectivity. This affects the development and day-to-day running of such an important rural business, employer and vital part of rural society. Tim Brown and his family are in such a position – based in Agglethorpe in Coverdale – they own three holdings, which are about five miles apart.

The farm home has about 20% reception’ says Tim ‘I know where to stand to get reception but calls can just drop off, which is frustrating’. The top farm, based near Horsehouse, has only 1% reception and the low farm has fantastic reception. ‘It’s frustrating that it is so inconsistent.

Tim, his father and son, Edward who has just finished at Newton Rigg College near Penrith, and has ambitions to take over, works the farm. ‘There are loads of things we could do and Edward has many ideas but, at the minute, we cannot even do the basics’ says Tim.

He continues ‘simple things like being able to update records whilst out; but because we do not have mobile connections we cannot. Cattle have to be registered within fourteen days of their birth. Tim could take the information home and use the broadband to upload, yet, the family broadband has been known to go down for weeks at a time due to being reliant on old copper wires, which is affected by the weather. This means that Tim has to resort to using paper because ‘if we move it online and then the broadband goes down, we will have to revert back and that’s when mistakes happen’ Tim says.

5G would allow the family to scan tags using their phones and update records of pedigree animals instantaneously. It, also, could offer new opportunities ensuring the farm works more efficiently.

Even the things that most people take for granted are difficult. ‘We don’t do online banking because of the connection’ says Sarah, Tim’s partner who works part time as well as helping on the farm. ‘We can’t rely on it – whether that is payments going through or invoices being sent’. The family are often left checking transactions have taken place.

Digital connectivity is supposed to take away these worries – supporting a business and family – not cause more stress.

However, in areas such as Coverdale, this is not the case.

Tim, other farmers and businesses are working twice as hard to keep up with the rest of the country. ‘Big businesses aren’t interested in us. There are only four houses up our area – so for the larger companies – it is not cost effective’ says Tim. Yet, the family still have to pay the same amount as those who have reliable broadband and mobile connections – some of which are just a few miles away – ‘we’re paying a premium but not getting the service; putting simply it’s not fair’.