TWO main farmer organisations have welcomed Chancellor Philip Hammond's £200m investment in piloting new solutions to install full fibre internet in rural areas.

But Minette Batters, NFU president, said it was vital that it was not a one off investment. "It must be part of a continued effort to deliver better connectivity for all rural businesses," she said.

"According to the latest NFU survey, 59 per cent of farmers felt the broadband speed they received was insufficient for their business. We hope that this investment in the National Productivity Investment Fund will be used to address the digital divide between the countryside and urban areas."

Tim Breitmeyer, CLA president, said the Chancellor had prioritised connecting the countryside like never before. Digital connectivity was vital to boosting rural economic growth and the new funding would go towards the deployment of full fibre broadband in the hardest to reach areas.

However, he said: "Although this is very welcome cash for rural broadband, the Government has still missed an opportunity to incorporate 4G mobile connectivity into its plans to improve rural economic growth.

"Mobile network operators have abandoned the countryside by failing to resolve poor signal and not-spots. Introducing a single rural mobile phone network to deliver better and faster 4G coverage would prove the Government is serious about its ambition to connect the countryside."

On business rates, Mr Breitmeyer said it was not only high street retailers who found they impinged on viability. "Rural businesses are burdened by the clumsy and unfair rates system too. All small businesses need rates relief, especially as they gear up for the uncertainty of Brexit, but the Government has failed to recognise the equally pressing needs of small rural businesses.

“The Government must carry out a fundamental review of the broken business rates system before the next revaluation in 2021.”

On the Chancellor's announcement that the National Living Wage will increase by 4.9 per cent, Mrs Batters said it was substantially more than the sector had expected. She said: "It comes at a time when farm businesses are faced with a rising cost base. We will continue to engage with the Low Pay Commission on this issue."

She said the announcement that the Government will introduce a new Structures and Buildings Allowance for non-residential structures went some way to meet their call for tax relief on investment in farm infrastructure and would help farmers invest in modern, efficient buildings.

“The NFU also welcomes the increase to the Annual Investment Allowance to £1m but we are disappointed it is time-limited for two years," she said.