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Government Won’t Force Farmers in England into Online-Only Land.. Yet

Friday, March 20th, 2015 (9:33 am) - Score 527

The UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) appears to have delayed a long-planned strategy that would have effectively forced farmers in remote rural parts of England to go online, which is despite a lack of good broadband connectivity and IT skills among some in the community.

Admittedly Ofcom may frequently claim that 99.9% of the country should be able to access a bog standard sub-2Mbps fixed line broadband service (not to mention Satellite), although as most people know the reality away from optimistic estimation is usually somewhat more challenging and quite a few remote communities do still struggle to get a stable fixed line connection.

Never the less the Government’s related “Digital by Default” strategy, which among other things seeks to save money by taking some services online-only, has continued to move forward despite concerns that not everybody was connected yet (many millions of people still don’t use the Internet, albeit usually linked to age or disability).

One aspect of this strategy involved forcing rural farmers in England to submit Basic Payment Scheme and other applications online, although in a surprise announcement this will now be reverted to a manual paper-based submission system. Coincidentally, perhaps, this has occurred just before the General Election. The blame is being put down to gremlins in the system.

Mark Grimshaw, CEO of the RPA, said (Farmers Guardian):

We were expecting a significant release of functionality over the weekend. The release did not go well. The portal has been down for all activity this week. We have taken the decision to suspend activity of the portal. We are closing the mapping functionality for general users. We do not now need customers to make online changes to their maps.

We have recognised the pressure the industry is under so we have decided to go back a year to allow customers to get their applications in. We have gone back to what we know works which is good old paper.”

As a result farmers will, effective from Monday, be able to get blank paper forms for submitting their applications. Farmers will then be able to submit their claim by email, post or through one of 50 RPA drop-in centres. Apparently the EU deadline for some of these forms may also be extended to June 2015.

Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Avatar FibreFred says:

    The issue isn’t down to lack of good rural broadband tho is it?

    Looking at this http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31976230 it sounds like the system/service itself is the issue, not bandwidth bottlenecks

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Indeed. Yet another government IT system which is heavily delayed. However, it does occur to me that of all the demographic groups which you might choose to force online, farmers are surely, as a group, among the worst to choose from the point of view of broadband connectivity.

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      No and the article makes clear that it’s allegedly a technical issue, although being ISPreview.co.uk it’s obviously our duty to reflect the other problems related to broadband access that have often cropped up in relation to this.

    3. Avatar DTMark says:

      Even if ‘farmers’ gain access to connectivity that they have not had before – I’d say that a key issue is one of getting to grips with the internet. Maybe, with computers.

      I’m not saying that farmers or anyone else in remote places is some sort of backward buffoon. But everyone else has had something of a head-start.

    4. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Many farmers are very sophisticated technically with GPS mapped fields for crops, fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide application. Some of these are very clever, and can change rate of fertiliser application according to crop yield histories. Livestock farmers will often use tagging systems, and large diary herds have heavily computerised systems for monitoring the production of individual cows. Then there is all the experience of running a small business, tax returns, dealing with accounts and so on.

      No doubt there are many farmers that aren’t so sophisticated, but I suspect the real problem is going to be more about the usability of the application than exposure to IT itself.

  2. Avatar gerarda says:

    I think the problem is probably a combination of technical and connectivity. The new version of Google maps is virtually unusable on a 0.5mbps line so I think the challenge to do detailed mapping that is usable for farmers on those sort of speeds has defeated the RPA.

  3. Avatar jane doe says:

    If you wish to laugh as well as cry with frustration at what tech savvy farmers have had to go through, this thread sums up the situation pretty well http://thefarmingforum.co.uk/index.php?threads/rpa-rant.43800/

    1. Avatar MikeW says:

      I got through the first post in hysterics. Hope the rest is like that 😉

      So, all the internet will actually achieve is that it lets bureaucrats more opportunity to get up close and personal with a farmer, but with no need to step in something smelly, and tie them up in red tape ever more efficiently.

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