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There is an app for that, but mobile phone blackspots are holding Australian farmers back

ABC Business logoABC Business 11/01/2019

Farmers are ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, but they're stymied by a lack of signal. © ABC Open: tilly_jak Farmers are ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, but they're stymied by a lack of signal. Many farmers now use apps to control watering systems, monitor their crops and animals and even close gates, but mobile phone blackspots in regional areas are playing havoc with that technology.

When Tasmanian farmer Scott Bowden wants to turn an irrigator on at his farm at Bothwell in the central highlands, he reaches for an app on his mobile phone.

"It's so nice to be able to start and stop a pivot from your phone," Mr Bowden said.

But the phone and the app don't always work.

"We use the phone to talk to the wi-fi," he explained.

"The wi-fi is independent of the mobile coverage, but we can't use it without mobile phone coverage.

"It's complicated." 

That means when he is in a part of the farm that does not have mobile phone coverage, and he wants to turn on an irrigator, he can't.

Farmers tired of waiting for Canberra

The executive director of the Australian Farm Institute, Richard Heath, says farmers around the country need mobile phone coverage and internet access to do business and run their properties.

Modern farmers use technology to monitor things like whether gates are open, what level the water is at in tanks and troughs, and how crops are growing, as well as checking in on their animals.

But the mobile signal can't always be relied on.

The Federal Government mobile blackspot program is designed to increase coverage.

It says it will deliver 867 base stations across the country, with 651 currently on-air.

But the New South Wales Farmer's Association's technology spokeswoman, Walcha farmer Sonia O'Keefe, is worried that the Government's money isn't always being spent on farming areas.

"A lot of the criteria for where a decision on where a mobile blackspot tower will be located is based on what is the population that it will cover," she said.

"So a lot goes to areas that have a high tourist influx."

As well as being good for business, the farming experts say mobile phone coverage is also important for quality of life — providing farmers with connection to the community via social media and improving their mental health.

Richard Heath says some farmers in blackspots have given up waiting on help from the Federal Government.

Instead, they're buying data and phone connections from private companies that have satellites.

"An example might be where sensors on a tank that are hundreds of kilometres from a homestead are transmitting small packets of data to a satellite and that satellite is then putting that data essentially into the internet," he told AM.

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