Virgin Media O2 showcases the ‘connected farm of the future’

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Virgin Media O2 aims to revolutionise rural agriculture with its “Connected Farm of the Future” initiative, in partnership with Cannon Hall Farm located in Barnsley.

In an effort to eliminate connectivity challenges across Cannon Hall Farm’s sprawling 126-acre estate – including notorious blackspots and notspots – Virgin Media O2 is deploying a network of sensors and monitors.

The objective is to showcase how these technologies can collaborate to enhance farm operations; saving valuable time and money. Economic modelling conducted by Cebr suggests smart farming could inject an additional £2.5 billion into the UK economy and generate 30,390 new jobs in rural areas.

The agricultural industry has grappled with numerous formidable challenges in recent years, ranging from unpredictable weather patterns to labour shortages. Worryingly, DEFRA’s latest Farmer Opinion Tracker revealed that more than half (52%) of farmers express pessimism about their future in farming, up from 41 percent in 2022.

In response to these adversities, Virgin Media O2 – in collaboration with Cannon Hall Farm and the renowned TV presenter Jules Hudson – has conceived the “Connected Farm of the Future” trial to address issues facing the rural farming industry.

Jules Hudson, known for his role as a TV presenter in shows like ‘Springtime on The Farm’ and ‘Escape to the Country,’ emphasises the pivotal role of agriculture in the UK’s rural communities:

“The last few years have been extremely challenging for farmers and the research from Virgin Media O2, coupled with this trial, highlights the potential for rural farming and agriculture to be transformed with ever more useful technologies.

British agriculture faces great uncertainties, but without it, the foundation of our rural communities would disappear.”

Virgin Media O2 has made significant network improvements at Cannon Hall Farm to eradicate signal blackspots and notspots, ensuring reliable and high-speed mobile connectivity across the estate.

The enhanced connectivity enables the testing of various connected technology applications, including:

  • Protecting valuable assets: Farming communities have long been plagued by equipment and livestock theft, costing the industry £49.5 million in 2022 alone. The trial equips the farm with trackers, sensors, and switches that monitor the location of high-value items and alert farmers to open gates—reducing the risk of loss and freeing up valuable time.
  • Enhancing safety: Farming often involves working alone in remote areas with limited or no signal, increasing the risk of accidents. The trial addresses this by providing a reliable mobile signal across the farm, enabling workers to seek help if needed and potentially save lives.
  • Optimising yields: Climate change has had a detrimental impact on crop yields worldwide. To combat this, the trial includes the installation of sensors to monitor soil moisture, atmospheric temperature, and humidity. These sensors can assess crop health, irrigation needs, and enable real-time interventions to improve crop quality and reduce water consumption.

Rob Nicholson, Owner of Cannon Hall Farm, is enthusiastic about the potential of this technology, stating: “The potential for this technology to help create a more efficient, profitable, and sustainable future for not only our family farm but many other farms across the UK is huge.”

According to The Great Rural Revival report, improved rural connectivity is expected to boost the UK economy by £65.1 billion and increase employment by 6.8 percent. This includes the potential for the rural agriculture sector to increase turnover by 9.4 percent, resulting in an additional £2.5 billion per year and 30,390 new jobs.

However, the report also highlights a digital divide between urban and rural agriculture firms; with urban firms more advanced in utilising connectivity for various purposes.

Virgin Media O2 says it’s steadfast in its commitment to rural connectivity, expanding its 4G network to additional sites through the UK Government’s Shared Rural Network initiative. The company calls on policymakers and authorities to streamline infrastructure deployment processes, ensuring that rural communities can fully harness the benefits of enhanced connectivity.

Jeanie York, CTO at Virgin Media O2, emphasises the transformational power of connectivity in rural areas: “Through this innovative trial with Cannon Hall Farm, we have demonstrated how a network of sensors, underpinned by excellent connectivity, can make a real impact and transform the way we live and work in rural areas.”

Virgin Media O2’s smart farm trial demonstrates the immense promise for transforming agriculture in rural areas, addressing pressing challenges, and boosting the UK economy while ushering in a new era of farming powered by technology and connectivity.

See also: Next-gen street lights will transform UK cities

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