Agricultural monitoring is carried out at the JRC mainly to distinguish, identify and measure the main crop production areas in Europe, estimate production early in the year and check the validity of farmers’ applications for EU subsidies. The European Commission uses satellite earth-observation data as a cost-efficient way of gathering the necessary monitoring information.
The JRC supports the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its instruments, such as the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) standards and the Farm Advisory System (FAS). It also contributes to the Digital Agenda for Europe and the 'Integrated Industrial Policy for the Globalisation Era' with regard to environmental observations sharing and standard setting.
The JRC’s monitoring of agriculture using remote sensing started in 1988, with the aim of providing independent and timely information on crop areas and yields using emerging space technologies. The JRC focuses on anticipating and responding to the evolving needs related to agricultural monitoring.
Through the years, JRC activities have led to several innovative developments such as control with remote sensing (CwRS), the Digital Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) and parcel area measurement using Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) devices.
The JRC provides scientific and technical support for the Integrated Administration and Control System’s (IACS) implementation, cross-compliance implementation and information management linked to the CAP regulations.
The expertise developed within the JRC integrates research in and techniques used for carrying out statistics, image processing and interpretation (from satellite or air-borne media), geographic information system (GIS) management and web-based information technology, geomatics and GPS (orthophotos, large-scale mapping, parcel measurement), standardisation and quality control.
Digital Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS)
The Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) was designed as the main instrument for the implementation of the CAP's first pillar, whereby direct payments are made to the farmer once the land and area eligible for payments have been identified and quantified.
The JRC participates in the standardisation processes in order to increase the interoperability of the spatial data through an LPIS core model, and supports the development of user-friendly applications for data documentation. Furthermore, it supports EU Member States by providing guidelines on the production of orthoimagery.
The JRC adapts newly developed methodologies, practices and templates to help improve the LPIS and IACS-GIS (Integrated Administration and Control System - Geographic Information System) applications.
The JRC contributes to the standardisation processes by developing and harmonising LPIS control methods for checking CAP claims.
It also provides the EU Member States with working documents, training courses and consultation services, and helps them verify the performance of their systems by implementing a Quality Assurance framework.
The JRC is developing an LPIS Quality Assurance web portal and will integrate consolidated guidelines on its MARS WikiCAP website.
Two mainstream approaches are taken: Control with Remote Sensing (CwRS), which is performed using Satellite Remote Sensing, and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS, GPS) parcel measurements, which are performed using a satellite navigation system that provides autonomous geospatial positioning with global coverage.
To perform controls on fund aids allocated under the CAP, all EU Member State administrations need ICT & GIS instruments (Land Parcel Identification Systems - LPIS).
The main aim is to prevent duplication of claims for fund aids for the same piece of land, called ‘agricultural parcels’. It does this by providing unique identifiers based on geographical coordinates. In total, the EU-27 contains around 100 million agricultural parcels.
Over the past two decades, the JRC has provided technical guidance and/or support to help set up, refine and when possible harmonise those instruments, especially in new Member States and candidate countries. Today, the JRC continues to provide input for LPIS quality assessment that also helps to reduce the need for on-the-spot controls, thereby helping Member States to save financial resources.
Image acquisition and storage
The JRC is in charge of image acquisition in the context of CAP Controls with Remote Sensing. Two types of images are acquired: satellite imagery and aerial photography. These are used for the management of feasibility studies. The JRC also produces image acquisition specifications and performs benchmarking studies of newly launched satellite sensors.
The main advantage of aerial photography with respect to very high resolution (VHR) satellite imagery is that it can cover much larger areas (e.g. large administrative units such as full provinces) in a limited period of time. However, acquiring aerial photography has also some constraints such as restrictions over military zones and air traffic lanes.
Cloud cover is not as restrictive for aerial photography as it is for satellite imagery, but meteorological conditions do affect the radiometric quality of the photos.
Moreover, the lead-time in the processing of analogue aerial photography (which requires developing, printing, scanning) may be longer than that for satellite images. Aerial photography acquisition must therefore be organised sufficiently in advance, and the acquisition periods should be relatively early in the year.
The use of natural or infrared colour imagery allows for easier identification of land cover, thus significantly reducing the need for follow-up field visits for crop identification.
Support to agricultural policy instruments
The objective of cross compliance is to contribute to the development of sustainable agriculture and making the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) more compatible with the expectations of society at large. Cross compliance is part of the baseline for the definition of agri-environment commitments and for the calculation of the corresponding payments.
Farmers receiving payments to sustain their income as well as support for implementing certain rural development measures, i.e. improving the environment and the countryside, must respect cross compliance on the whole holding. Otherwise the financial support they receive is reduced or cancelled.
Within cross compliance, the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) standard deals with issues regarding soil (erosion, organic matter and structure), minimum levels of maintenance, the protection and management of water resources, and the maintenance of permanent pasture areas.
The Farm Advisory System (FAS) is a system for advising farmers on land and farm management which can also cover cross compliance requirements.
The JRC promotes the use of Remote Sensing and GIS in the implementation, management, and monitoring/control of GAEC. It also works toward the optimisation of the definition and control of GAECs through the exchange of best practices, and supports the development and promotion of methods using traceability, quality, certification and record-keeping at farm/parcel level.
The JRC also works in support of low-carbon farming practices. It contributes to the design of effective low-carbon farming measures in the EU to help adapt to increasing levels of CO2 and to reduce the effect of agriculture on greenhouse gases levels, while ensuring sustainable production.
The JRC helps the European Commission and EU Member States to understand how agriculture and the environment are interlinked by providing scientific knowledge gained from geo-spatial and modelling-based assessments.
Water supply to agriculture
Water abstraction for irrigation purposes accounts on average for 24% of total water abstraction across Europe. Pressures on water resources culminate during the summer period when the irrigation demand from agriculture is at its highest. Intensive agriculture is also responsible for the degradation of the quality of surface and ground waters, including contamination from pesticides and nitrates.
The JRC is actively involved in studying the impact of agriculture on the quantity and quality of water resources.
Limited rainfall and shortages of water have an important impact on food availability and food security in several regions of Europe and the world.
Climate change is expected to intensify irrigation requirements and water scarcity, placing an additional burden on water abstraction and on land use.
The JRC has developed a number of tools to quantify crop production in the context of the sustainable use of water resources and is involved in various related areas of research.
The JRC researches the possibility of combining yield forecast models that use, for example, satellite-derived indicators of vegetation status or the water satisfaction indices derived from agro-meteorological models. It also performs spatial vulnerability analysis, combining socio-economic data and biophysical indicators.
Moreover, the JRC is developing the use of medium- and high-resolution imagery for obtaining crop masks (i.e. maps used to filter low-resolution satellite-derived indicators) and cultivated area statistics.
River Basin Network on Water Framework Directive and Agriculture