Charlie Flindt: Broadband is overrated

The world is full of experts debating the future of farming. And whenever they are gathered together someone, at some stage, will come up with this hilarious line: Faster broadband will save Britain’s farmers.

It’s astonishing that no-one rolls round the floor laughing. Far from it: They all nod sagely, mumbling “Hmmm, yes, faster broadband – must get faster broadband.”

They’re all at it: Everyone from the Prince of Wales to the CLA, well-known farming magazines to numerous and endless quango taskforces set up by governments of various colours.

I assume that “saving Britain’s farmers” means “assuring them a profitable future”, and for the life of me I cannot see how having faster broadband is supposed to contribute to my farm’s profitability.

That seed that arrived last week – it, like my agrochemicals, was bought through a buying group, who reckon they save me money every year (I’m not allowed to tell you how much; if I did, you’d find me wearing concrete boots in a vat of glyphosate).

I buy my own diesel by ringing round three or four local dealers, squeezing a penny out of one of them in the end.

Buying new kit is an exhausting round of brochures, tea and HobNobs, and trying to get that new kit to work properly involves a lot of angry phone calls. But no broadband.

And when it comes to selling my mediocre pile of produce, I leave that in the hands of professionals at the local grain co-op, who are guaranteed to nail the top possible prices year after year. Good luck, boys. The fact that I have broadband isn’t going to affect that price a bit.

It’s true that I am able to access what’s laughingly referred to as a “weather forecast” more quickly, and see, with greater haste, just how wrong the Met Office gets it.

On 13 September, for instance, I finished harvest in driving drizzle that the Met Office had, for five full days, failed to predict on their snazzy website (the one full of dire warnings about apocalyptic weather in 100 years’ time.)

It’s also true that broadband means I can enjoy watching the techno remix of They’re taking the Hobbits to Isengard while my son, Anthony, is at the other end of the house playing Killer Death Slash Terror Soldier 9 with his mates online.

It is said that broadband will be vital for filling in all those forms that are an integral part of farming. Integral, yes, but they don’t add to my profitability. Far from it: The RPA has still lost five-figures-worth of last year’s SFP submitted on old-fashioned paper. The cock-up opportunities will be far greater online.

What will save farming is paying farmers more for their stuff. It’s as simple as that and, while it’s true that there are a million events and influences that might bring that about (everything from Russian droughts to someone metaphorically kneeing the supermarkets in the groin until they cough up blood – or more money for their suppliers), broadband isn’t in that million.

Broadband is handy and fun and, when our connection breaks down, I confess I’m bereft. If I can’t get my daily fix of comedy weather forecasts and Beaker singing Coldplay’s Yellow, I’m lost. In fact, I’m forced to go and sit in my tractor and do some farming.

Perhaps HRH’s campaigning should be radically rethought. Save British Farming: Get Flindt and his kind out of the office – ban broadband.