Irish farming a decade behind EU rivals in broadband service

What next for rural broadband?
What next for rural broadband?
Michael Sheehan
Clifford Roe
John Graves
Dessie Cunningham
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Irish agriculture is 10 years behind other EU countries due to poor broadband services, farm contractors have said.

Delegates attending the recent Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland (PAC) conference said that they are lagging behind other EU countries as they cannot use smart farm technologies such as GPS as effectively as other nations due to poor broadband services.

PAC chairman Michael Sheehan, who has been contracting in Co Tipperary for 43 years, said that Ireland is miles behind EU broadband standards.

"My broadband is extremely poor and I'm not living too far from the town of Clonmel. Phone signal is pretty miserable and if we're going to progress with smart farming, we're going to need a proper broadband system. We're 10 years behind other countries. We're miles behind," he said.

John Graves, a contractor in Cashel, Co Tipperary, added that he sometimes needs to use two sources of internet as the service is so unreliable. "Our internet is very bad. They started rolling the fibre broadband out in my road and they stopped three houses away from me," he said.

Tom Murphy of PAC added that the lack of broadband is impeding the work of contractors and urged that it is rolled out soon in order to facilitate the work of contractors and to meet agricultural targets.

"There's talk that the Government are mapping the country. I would've thought that it would've been done before now, but if not, get on with it and where we haven't got any broadband or very little broadband, get it in there first, so that we can at least use some smart farming and when we move to other areas, then we can increase the speeds," he urged.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan also pointed out that the urban/rural divide would only deepen if the National Broadband Plan isn't rolled out soon.

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"There's a big urban rural divide and it's in relation to high-speed broadband and only 25pc of our rural areas have access. We need high-speed broadband. This is a handicap that we need to sort," he said

"Denis Naughten's department (for communications) need to take advantage of money under the Rural Development Plan."

'We're seeing a lot of contractors chucking it all in'

From investing in new technologies to inclement weather, contractors at the recent Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland conference voiced the most pressing issues facing their businesses this spring.

Michael Sheehan, Clonmel, Co Tipperary

"We bought an umbilical slurry spreading system a couple of weeks ago and last year we bought bale-handling equipment and a new tractor.

"You need to be careful about what you're buying and have the market well researched. A tractor nowadays is about €150,000. Up to about 10 years ago, we could make a profit and it wasn't a dirty word. In the last 10 years, the margins have been squeezed considerably. It's getting to the stage where there are a lot of contractors chucking it in."

John Graves, Dundrum, Co Tipperary

"Field conditions are our biggest problem. We can't get on the land at the moment and until that improves, we're not going to get anywhere. It bundles all the work together and puts more pressure on down the line.

"I use GPS for a fertiliser spreader and I used yield mapping on a silage harvester in 2006 and 2007 but I packed it in. Customers were happy to get the information, but they didn't want to pay any extra. There was no financial benefit for me."

Dessie Cunning­ham, Carrick­macross, Monaghan

"My son was trying to invest in a new piping system. I bought one in 1994 and he's using that now.

"He went to buy a new system and went to the bank and had no problem previously getting funding, but the bank told him that there was no equity in that piece of equipment. He felt aggrieved.

"If he had land or a herd number, he would get a grant and would have no problems, and he's going to lose work over this. It's so unfair."

Clifford Roe, Ballacolla, Co Laois

"The weather always has a part to play and it's been very bad since last September. I bought a new tractor. I spent €180,000 on a John Deere 6175R.

"Today is informative of the way to go forward and how far technology has gone compared to how it was before. My first sprayer was a 10ft sprayer, now it's 21m (69ft). I reckon the technology will pay for itself in the year."

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