Use of new imaging technologies to monitor the common agricultural policy of the European Union

Apr 20, 2021 | World News

The Common Agricultural Policy (“CAP”) has a long history of using satellite or aerial imagery to control area aid, which currently accounts for almost 80% of EU funding for agriculture and rural development. As of March 2017, thanks to the EU-owned Sentinel 1 and 2 satellites, high-resolution images are available in frequent time ranges and free of charge, which could fundamentally change Earth observation technology for the purpose of monitoring agricultural activity. Since 2018, paying agencies can use Sentinel satellite data instead of traditional controls based on field inspections. The audit examined whether the European Commission (EC) effectively supports the maximum possible application of these new technologies and whether Member States have taken appropriate measures to implement them. Both EC and some member states have taken steps to ensure that the potential benefits of new technologies can be put into practice as far as possible. However, the transition to monitoring controls requires significant changes to IT systems, specific resources and expertise. The audit recommended that the EC encourage Member States to apply monitoring controls as their main control system under the CAP after 2020.
The CAP has a long history of using aerial and satellite imagery to control a certain part of the area aid. The 1992 CAP reform made it possible to use satellite images instead of field inspections. On the basis of the 2003 CAP reform, Member States were to establish a computerised geographical information system for all agricultural parcels. The 2013 CAP reform made the use of this Land Registration System (LPIS) and Geospatial Aid Application (GSAA) mandatory, with gradual implementation since 2015 to improve checks on aid applications. The LPIS system is based on aerial and satellite images corrected to eliminate geometric distortions (so-called ortorectization). Paying agencies shall use the LPIS system to cross-check all area aid applications in order to verify that they pay the funds only for eligible agricultural land and only once for a given area of agricultural land.
 The introduction of a geospatial aid application (see paragraph 04) allows farmers to submit their aid applications and payment applications electronically, together with the location data of the agricultural parcels declared by them. The paying agencies’ information systems can now link geospatial information to agricultural parcels. The EU owns Sentinel 1 and 2 satellites , which are part of the EU’s Earth monitoring infrastructure from space (Copernicus programme) and which have been providing freely available high-resolution images since June 2015.
Paying agencies shall assess activity on land/holdings during the year on the basis of the latest Sentinel satellite data and information from farmers. Due to spatial resolution, data from Sentinel satellites are not suitable for measuring the area of the plot. The paying agencies thus measure the land in the LPIS system, which uses images with higher spatial resolution. For the purposes of monitoring checks, LPIS should therefore provide paying agencies with high-quality data that is accurate in terms of the eligible area recorded and which is updated frequently enough.
Expected benefit of the new monitoring approach:
⦁ Greater compliance when farmers are provided with assistance in meeting the requirements.
⦁  Covering all farmers, reducing administrative burdens and improved cost-effectiveness
⦁  Better information for farm management
The overall objective of the audit was to determine whether the EC and the Member States had taken sufficient measures to exploit the potential of new imaging technologies for CAP monitoring. In particular, it was assessed whether the EC effectively promotes the greatest possible use of new technologies and whether Member States have taken appropriate measures to implement them. Furthermore, examples of good practice on how to use new technologies to monitor the CAP have been sought and to clarify what obstacles are hindering their wider application. Assessing progress in the use of new imaging technologies is particularly relevant today, as the results of our audit could be used for the CAP after 2020. Greater deployment of new CAP monitoring technologies may also affect the future audit approach of national and Union supervisory authorities.
 Finally, the following main recommendations were adopted:

Recommendation 1 — Promote a control-based approach through monitoring as a key control system for paying agencies.

Recommendation 2 — Make better use of new technologies for monitoring environmental and climate requirements.
SOURCE: Publications Office of the European Union