61pc of Irish farms have no internet connection

23 Nov 2011

Some 61pc of Irish farmers still have absolutely no internet access on their farms or in their homes. A further 19pc are on old-fashioned dial-up connections.

The survey by Onwave, formerly Satellite Broadband Ireland, was carried out at the recent National Ploughing Championships, to examine Irish farmers’ use of broadband and online services for farm management.

Of all those farmers who don’t have access to broadband services, more than 77pc believe there is no availability in their areas.

“It’s astonishing to see such a large digital divide still in existence in rural Ireland and particularly among the farming community,” Sean Óg Brennan, technical director, Onwave, said.

“Our rural population, young and old, are missing out on all the opportunities that are being made available due to the digital age,” Brennan said.

A report conducted in 2010 by the Committee on the Uptake of Information Technology in Agriculture, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, identified broadband availability and cost as two significant factors which have a bearing on farmers’ uptake of online services and technology.

Access to broadband and the internet can provide important resources to help in the efficient management of a modern farm, such as information on current farming practices, prices and trends, EU directives and competition information. This can help farmers make more informed decisions about their business and keep up-to-date on any issues that may affect them.

The Onwave survey also found that 70pc of farmers who currently have some form of internet access use it for farm-related activities, such as banking, tender documents, returns to the Department of Agriculture, and livestock registration.

For those who don’t have any internet access, 52pc admitted having asked friends, family members or agents to help them when they need to access relevant websites to fill in forms online.

Broadband for farmers will be more important in next three years

Looking to the future, the survey revealed that the vast majority of Irish farmers, 98pc, believe access to broadband for Irish farming will become more important in the next three years.

Whether it is for farm-related activities or leisure activities, such as planning and booking holidays, buying cinema tickets or searching local activities, farms and rural homes should be able to access top quality online services, no matter where they are.

“The results of this survey show that many Irish farmers are still not using the internet in any significant way for farm management activities. A number of agricultural bodies, such as the Department of Agriculture, offer services online to farmers which can provide assistance for farm-specific tasks.

“For Irish farmers, this may have a significant negative effect in the future, with their European counterparts having access to all the most up-to-date information and resources online.

“One respondent to our survey who I felt concisely summed up the current opinion in many areas of rural Ireland, said that he would prefer to submit forms that relate to his farming business online but just can’t get broadband access where he lives so has to send them by post,” Brennan pointed out.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years