Court of Auditors: EU needs to use satellite imagery more for CAP ‘agri-monitoring’

The European Commission has been urged to make better use of new imaging technologies in agri-monitoring in a new report from the European Court of Auditors.

Technologies such as the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel satellites are a “potential game-changer” for managing and monitoring the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the auditors say.

While the EU has in recent years encouraged their use to assess area-based direct aid to farmers, progress has been slower on using them to monitor environmental and climate requirements, the report found.

Since 2018, paying agencies in member states have been able to use Copernicus Sentinel data and other new technologies, such as geotagged photos and drones, to assess farmers’ compliance with CAP rules.

This automated assessment, called ‘checks by monitoring’, makes it possible to identify crops and monitor activities – such as tillage, harvest and mowing – on individual agricultural parcels throughout the growing season.

The new approach can also reduce the cost of checks while making it possible to monitor all farmers instead of focusing on a sample of them.

The auditors examined whether the European Commission and member states had done enough to unlock the potential benefits of these new technologies for the management and control of the CAP.

They found that the commission had been active in promoting and supporting the use of new imaging technologies.

In 2019, 15 paying agencies (in Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Malta and Spain) used the ‘checks by monitoring’ approach for some of their schemes, with a further 13 in eight other member states intending to start this year.

Obstacles

However, the auditors identified several current obstacles to the more widespread use of these new technologies.

One is the paying agencies’ concern that the commission may question decisions taken on the basis of checks by monitoring.

In addition, applying the new approach requires significant changes to paying agencies’ procedures and IT systems.

The commission has sought to facilitate and standardise access to Sentinel data via cloud-based services, but their uptake for operational purposes is still low. It has also financed some relevant research projects, but their results are yet to be exploited.

In 2019, none of the paying agencies implemented checks by monitoring for environmental conditional requirements and rural development schemes.

The auditors also found that the proposed set of performance indicators for the future CAP was largely not designed for direct monitoring with Copernicus Sentinel data.

As the new CAP for 2021-2027 is currently being designed, the auditors recommend that the European Commission:
  • Promote the ‘checks by monitoring’ approach as a key control system for paying agencies, for instance by identifying synergies for satellite data processing, storage or acquisition; and
  • Make better use of new technologies for monitoring environmental and climate requirements and developing action plans to remove obstacles to their wider uptake.

The court published its report in Luxembourg on Tuesday, January 28.

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