Farming columnist Anne-Marie Hamilton laments the lack of internet connection in the countryside

Anne Marie Hamilton

Anne Marie Hamilton - Credit: Archant

“For goodness sake, ring me. Now” - sorry to disappoint you. This is not the desperate plea of a star-crossed lover who has been stood up by her beloved on Valentine’s night.

Rather, it is the furious message from an irate farmer’s wife who has been frantically trying to contact her husband to come home as soon as possible, as there are an increasing number of people gathering in the farmyard, waiting for him to turn up, including a lorry driver who has arrived early to collect a load of corn and who, if he does not get his vehicle filled quickly, will run out of ‘driver hours’, and have to spend the night sleeping in his lorry in our farmyard.

So, what has brought this situation about? The answer is one word – technology. Like most small rural businesses, we have become dependent on technology to make the running of our businesses easier than they were in the past. Communication is key, and until fairly recently, our mobile phone system worked reasonably well between Wood Farm and the farm of our business partner, seven miles away. Sadly, all that changed when some bright spark in Government decided that it would be a good idea to reduce the number of phone masts in the country, and that instead, several different companies should share the same mobile phone mast.

The result was that the one near our partner’s farm was removed, and that area has been a ‘dead zone’ ever since. We have complained to the phone company on numerous occasions, but they could not care less. If Rob is working at the other farm and is needed at Wood Farm, I now only have two options – either to try and contact our partner by a landline and hope that there will be someone in the farm office who can answer the phone and then go out and find Rob, or I will have to drive over to the other farm myself, and try and locate him. And they call this progress.

I felt marginally comforted when I saw an article in a national newspaper last week with the headline ‘Cut-off countryside: no mobile calls in third of rural buildings’. My jaundiced response was: ‘Nor outside, either’.

The article went on to mention that 11 per cent of buildings in the countryside cannot get a basic fixed-line connection of 10Mbps (megabits per second) either. Wood Farm is at the end of the line as far as an internet connection is concerned, and on a good day, our upload speed is half a megabyte – and that is dependent on the fact that the children in the village are not on holiday, or have just returned home from school. By the time everyone in the village has had their share of the internet, our connection can barely crawl down the line, and frequently crashes.

Successive governments seem to be obsessed with making all paperwork digital and completing everything on-line, but few of them are willing to face the fact that you do not have to live in the outer reaches of Scotland to be deprived of a good internet connection or reliable phone signal. We are now awaiting the latest government initiative ‘Making Tax Digital’, with interest. We are certainly willing to try and co-operate, but it might be a tad difficult, unless they can improve the local infrastructure dramatically in the next six weeks.

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We will concentrate on enjoying life for a little while longer, before the next bout of frustration occurs. Wintertime for arable farmers tends to be an opportunity to relax and catch up on a few social occasions, and enjoy the company of our fellow farmers. The National Farmers Union holds its national conference during this time as they know that it is the best opportunity to get a large group of farmers together to discuss the concerns of the day. At a local level, the Huntingdonshire farmers tend to get together too, but we are not quite so earnest. Our social occasion is our annual dinner dance which takes place in St Ives this year on March 8. It is a great place to meet all your friends, and a lot of non-farmers come too. It is the last opportunity to enjoy a really great night out before the spring work begins. If you have never been, why not join us? Forget the frustrations of life for a few hours, phone 01487 773757, and find out what you have been missing.