‘We need to address the huge rural-urban broadband divide’ – Hogan

Addressing the “huge rural-urban gap in the provision of broadband” is essential to the future of farming in Ireland,  EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan has warned.

Speaking at today’s Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland (PAC Ireland) conference in Kilkenny, the commissioner stressed that bridging the gap is vital for achieving agricultural goals for “digitisation and modernisation”.

In his opening address at the event titled ‘Smart Farming – Agricultural Contractors and Farmers Working Together’, the commissioner described the lack of connectivity as “extremely costly” for rural populations in general – and agriculture in particular.

While 76% of the EU population now has access to fast broadband only 40% of homes in rural areas have such access.

“This is a serious handicap for the development of new businesses, jobs and prosperity,” he said.

The commissioner highlighted that around €6 billion in EU funding has been dedicated to improve the roll-out of broadband, especially for peripheral areas – benefiting around 18 million rural citizens.

“The European Commission is serious about driving the digital and technological transformation of European food production.

“Contractors will be central to addressing challenges relating to agricultural sustainability, and the overall ambitious targets set out by the EU under the COP21 international climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

“As we move towards a more modern and more climate-friendly CAP, the potential of precision agriculture and data-driven solutions is only beginning to be fully understood.

“We want a policy which is more modern and delivers greater benefits for EU citizens, particularly when it comes to the environment and climate performance,” he said.

‘Smart farming is already here’

Speaking ahead of the event, PAC Ireland chairman Michael Sheehan said: “Smart farming is not the future; it’s here right now.

Agri contractors must be fully ‘clued-up’ on all aspects of smart farming technology and plan where we will fit into the bigger picture.

The chairman added: “The capital investment required for most smart farming technologies will put it out of reach for smaller farmers, so the agricultural contracting sector will be central to ensuring that all farmers can reap the benefits of what new innovation has to offer.”

Other high profile speakers at today’s event included: Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten; Richard Markwell, president of CEMA; Graham Robson, technical manager of Tama Plastic Industries and Dr. Markus Baldingder, chief technical officer and head of research and development at Pottinger.

Irish guest speakers included: Ciaran Roche, FBD Farm Insurance; Joe Healy, IFA president; Frank Mullany, Nokia 5G research strategist; Pio Ronan, Carbery Plastics senior sales executive; Kevin Nolan, an Irish farmer and contractor; James Healy, Macra na Feirme president; and Graham McHugh, FTMTA president.