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Netherlands Space Office

Checking on agricultural grants by satellite

The Netherlands is ahead of most of Europe in the use remote sensing by satellite for agricultural purposes. Therefore it is no surprise that the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) organized a meeting called 'Making more sense of remote sensing' in March, in which EU member states got to share all there is to share about the advanced capabilities that come with the application of satellite data. The Netherlands Space Office brought in their expertise on space and satellite data.

The Netherlands Enterprise Agency functions as a payment agency for agricultural grants. Checking if farmers stick to applied conditions is a job this agency shares with the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. Satellites make light work of this formerly labour-intensive task, since pictures taken from satellites easily show what kind of crops are in a particular farmer's field, and if those match the conditions under which the grant was awarded to that particular farmer.


At the end of March, delegates from EU states met at Schiphol in the Netherlands to discuss this method of remote sensing by satellite data. Joost van Uum, an advisor working for NSO, acted as chairman. “We showed delegates the positive effect remote sensing has on the work process within payment agencies. In the past, these agencies spent a lot of time physically checking farmers' fields for the right crops, whereas now they can easily check larger areas by using remote sensing, which is more reliable plus more effective and efficient.”

Catch crops

Apart from examples set by the Netherlands, other EU member states also shared their best practices. The Danish payment agency displayed how it is using satellite data to check the use of catch crops. These are crops that are grown between successive plantings of a main crop, often to prevent minerals being flushed away from the soil. Grants are awarded for this as well.


Satellite images come with many advantages. They are available more quickly than aerial pictures. A picture from a satellite can usually be downloaded within a day, whereas organizing an aerial picture every day would be quite a job.


Further fine-tuning of remote sensing should increase the potential for European payment agencies even more. Van Uum: “Cloud coverage can still prevent a decent optical satellite image. In the Netherlands and Denmark, work is being done to include radar technology that is able to deliver usable data in cloud and night conditions as well. This advanced application will benefit payment agencies.”

The same agencies can use European satellites for their purposes, but they can also purchase satellite data provided by private companies. In both cases, higher resolution images enable more detailed agricultural checks. In March, the Netherlands also announced it will make high resolution data available to stimulate development in the agricultural sector. The same data can be used by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency to better perform its task as a payment agency.

Supply & demand

NSO will take the lead in an innovative project that seeks to improve automatic detection of changes in satellite images. Van Uum: “At NSO, we will link innovative companies in the field of remote sensing to European payment agencies. We'll match supply and demand. The European meeting at Schiphol was very fruitful in that light as well.”