Agriculture: A new frontier for European space policy

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23 March 2018
Space offers the possibility for transformative change in agriculture.
Space offers the possibility for transformative change in agriculture.

Europe’s space policy is already delivering results for businesses and citizens. The European Parliament held a conference on 6 March, on how agriculture is the new frontier. The event was hosted by Eric Andrieu MEP, who is the S&D (The Progressives) co-ordinator for Agriculture and Rural Development.

MEP Andrieu believes that Europe should be more ambitious in making use of its extensive data and space infrastructure to drive innovation in the farming sector. This is why he organised this conference with MEP Peillon.

“Space offers the possibility for transformative change in agriculture and wider benefits to rural communities. Europe’s space data and services are world class – and often world leading. The next step is to harness this data and develop applications to optimise Europe’s agriculture industry, making it more precise, sustainable and cost effective,” MEP Peillon said.

The conference comes at a decisive moment. The European Commission has fired the starting shot for the revision of the Common Agricultural Policy post-2020. MEPs say they want a more forward-looking policy; one that offers the opportunity to release the full potential of space.

EGNOS, Galileo and Copernicus

DG GROW Deputy-Director General Pierre Delsaux, who is responsible for European Space Policy, underlined the progress that has already been made: “With Galileo we will have high-accuracy precision within 20 cm, which is extremely accurate. If you apply this to agriculture equipment, it would improve systems. Our Earth Observation system, Copernicus, gives a massive amount of information on the situation of the land – the composition, and where you need to put seeds and fertilizers. We need to combine EGNOS, Galileo and Copernicus to develop services that are useful to agriculture and other sectors.”

Hervé Pillaud, a farmer himself and expert on digital farming, leads a network of French farmers who are using space and digital technologies – he also collaborates with start-ups to help them design the technologies of the future.

Pillaud spoke at the conference and called on Europe to do a better job of incorporating in the future agriculture policy: “A future CAP must be better than today’s. The European Commission must help farmers to make better use of the tools and possibilities available. We need an agricultural system that can feed its citizens, but is equally conscious of environmental concerns, such as carbon capture and the use of renewable energy.”

Pillaud highlighted many areas where better data and tools could make a real difference. He underlined the role of Europe’s space services in mitigating risk: “Risk is an enormous question! Satellite information that allows us to anticipate events are more important as climatic conditions are less predictable. This will help farmers to reduce losses.”

Farming by Satellite Prize

Pillaud also welcomed the launch of the Farming by Satellite Prize targeted at young people: “The involvement of young people in finding solutions is absolutely necessary. The digital generation will not ask the questions in the same way.”

Delsaux added: “The Farming by Satellite Prize will generate new ideas and innovation. We want students from everywhere in Europe to ask what we can develop as new services, strategies and processes to make agriculture more efficient. We need new ideas and imagination. We don’t know what exactly the benefits will be, this is a path on which we cannot go back – it is clear that space will be more fundamental in the future. The farmers are also fully aware of the potential benefits, but we need to keep up and move fast.”

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Updated: Mar 23, 2018