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Ways for farmers to keep pace in digital race

Farming | Published:

A report by the National Farmers’ Union laid bare how some farmers are being left behind as technology is changing the way firms do business.

Gary Brockway, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales farming and rural business community committee member, and partner at Baldwins.

The NFU published its broadband and digital member survey which found that although 89 per cent of farmers agreed that a good broadband connection was essential for their business, 45 per cent admitted that their current internet speed isn’t fast enough to fulfil their needs.

The findings are particularly pertinent given that agriculture businesses above the £85,000 VAT threshold were required to start reporting their VAT digitally by April 1 this year. Yet how can farmers manage their accounts digitally in the Cloud if they have unreliable, slow or no access to internet?

Thankfully HMRC has made an exception to those farmers who are in remote locations and have poor or no broadband connection but, nevertheless, it’s likely that there will be other agricultural firms still concerned about relying on an unreliable broadband connection to abide by the law and submit their VAT digitally.

There are three key approaches that agricultural businesses can take to allay their fears if they are battling poor home broadband connections:

Use digital accounting software on a desktop pc that allows data to be inputted offline, and only requires an internet connection during the submission of data, which only needs a low upload speed rather than download speed. Types of software include Sage 50, Farmplan and Landmark.

Use 4G mobile data to submit data via the Cloud. While this works for some businesses, equally these connections in the countryside continue to be unreliable. Before going down this route, it is worth checking with the network operator on the level of coverage in any given region.

And thirdly, employ an accountant to carry out bookkeeping services on their behalf – this removes the worry around unreliable broadband possibly landing you in trouble with HMRC for filing late accounts.

Improvements, albeit slow, are being made to superfast broadband connections across the UK, with access to these services increasing from four per cent in 2015 to 16 per cent in 2018.

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This is essential progress if agricultural businesses are going to develop their businesses in the years ahead, whether it is using technology for diversification, marketing activities or improving efficiencies behind the scenes.

You can read the full NFU survey here: https://bit.ly/2SZ1CKA.

Gary Brockway, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales farming and rural business community committee member, and partner at Baldwins.

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