The European Union's MARS Project was lunched to develop operational remote sensing technology for information on the crops and their production. The R+TD project was initiated in 1988 with the implementation plan of 10 years. Its basic strategy consists of developing operational products using existing research results and knowledge available in the various member states. The MARS Project is coordinated and administered by the Space Applications Unit (SAI) of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), Ispra. It is funded and supervised by the Agriculture Directorate General (DG VI) and Eurostat.
The MARS Project is organized into three major fields. The provision and improvement of crop yield and acreage statistics and timely forecasting of the agricultural production is given at the level of EU (MARS STAT). The second field consists of providing scientific support for the implementation of the Common Agriculture Policy. Support is also made available for the transfer and adaptation of MARS results to users outside the European Commission.
The method, product and status of the main activities (1995-98)
Regional Crop Acreage Inventories
The objective is to implement crop area estimation methods based on the combined use of area frame sampling survey and high resolution SPOT (20 m resolution) or Landsat TM (30 m resolution) satellite images. The images are used for stratification prior to sampling, for crop identification and crop acreage assessment. The use of satellite images for regional crop area estimation is now considered as operational.
Rapid Estimate of European Crop Acreage Changes
The changes in crop acreage compared with the previous year values are assessed twice a month, from April to October. The estimates are derived for the EU from a sample of 60 sites, 40 x 40 km each. Computer assisted photo-interpretation and image classification procedures are applied on three high resolution satellite images acquired during the main season of crop development for each site. The site specific results from the sample of 60 sites are extrapolated into a crop acreage estimate for the EU with a statistical model. The acreage estimates are available within 10 days from the acquisition date of the satellite image. The full-scale operational application of the method started in 1992.
Yield Indicators and Yield Production
Crop yield indicators and area wise qualitative crop state monitoring of annual crops are derived from the low resolution (pixel size is about 1 km) AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer) sensor data onboard the NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration/US) satellite series. Vegetation index and surface temperature are computed. Comparative yields and drought indicators can be assessed at regional, national or European level from the AVHRR images obtained daily over a large area. For quantitative yield prediction and forecasting of annual crops, agrometeorological crop growth simulation models are used. The input are meteorological data, crop knowledge bases and the soil information available in 1:1.000.000 European soils database. The outputs of the model are aggregated into regional level. Then the model outputs and a technological time trend are related to time series of crop yield statistics. Finally, the yield forecast is given by an extrapolation in the actual year using regression obtained for a given crop in given region. Given the spatial limitations of agrometeorological models, a major research has started to use low resolution satellite data for quantitative yield forecast in combination with the agrometeorological models.
The MARS Bulletin
The main operational output product of the MARS project is the monthly "MARS Bulletin", that has been published from March to October, since 1993. It contains crop acreage estimates and crop yield forecast at the EU scale and cartographic products of crop yield indicators. The bulletin has a restricted circulation to the Services of the EC and to the national agricultural statistical services.
The MARS-CAP Activities
The MARS Project since 1991 has been providing scientific and technical support to the Directorate General VI - Agriculture, in the fields of control the farmer's crop and acreage declarations with remote sensing, the design of the Integrated Administrative Control System "IACS" and the establishment or updating of national grapevine and olive tree registers. JRC provides research support and new methodological developments to national administrations regularly.
The MARS Geographical Extensions
The project provides major support to the "MERA (MARS and Environmental Related Applications) Project" funded by the PHARE Regional Environmental Program of the European Commission presently covering 11 Central European Countries. The MERA Project is implemented by "National Focal Points" (NFPs) in the countries, which test the possible usefulness of the MARS results and realize the required adaptations to national conditions. Bilateral cooperation exists also with other countries such as Finland, Sweden, Hungary and the Russian Federation. MARS is also involved in the "HYDRE Project".