The European Commission has promoted the uptake of new imaging technologies in agrimonitoring,
but a number of obstacles to their more widespread use remain, according to 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). However, 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, say the auditors.
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. It amended the legal framework for using Sentinel data to monitor direct
payment area aid, making it clearer. In May 2018, a first paying agency in Italy started using
‘checks by monitoring’ in one province (Foggia, Puglia). In 2019, 15 paying agencies (in Belgium,
Denmark, Italy, Malta and Spain) used this new approach for some of their schemes. A further 13
in eight other Member States intend to start this year for some aid schemes and for part of the
area for which they are responsible.
The auditors identify 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.