Farmer analyzing crops in a field using data from the Copernicus satellite

Copernicus and climate-smart agriculture

Explore how the EU’s Copernicus programme is transforming agriculture with climate-smart solutions. Learn about its impact on irrigation management in Austria and the cost-efficiency of Sentinel data integration.

Agriculture is being profoundly affected by changing climate patterns. Extreme weather events, varying crop conditions, and the prevalence of diseases all underscore the need for timely and accurate climate information. Enter Copernicus, the European Union's ambitious Earth observation programme that is revolutionising the agricultural landscape through its innovative services. Copernicus is, through its space component, the largest provider of free and open Earth observation data in the world.

Copernicus offers a range of short to medium-term forecasts, including weather, sub-seasonal, and seasonal predictions. These forecasts play a pivotal role in guiding decisions for farmers, from determining optimal planting and harvest dates to selecting suitable crop varieties. Fertilisation and crop rotations can also be improved with the use of Copernicus data, ensuring that agricultural practices align with weather conditions.

Transforming irrigation management in Lower Austria with Copernicus

Austria's picturesque region of Marchfeld, known for its fertile farming lands, faced a daunting challenge – a shortage of water for farming. With farmers relying on irrigation for up to 60% of freshwater usage, innovative solutions were needed.

In 2013, the Institute of Surveying, Remote Sensing, and Land Information at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna initiated a groundbreaking demonstration campaign over 60,000 hectares, aiming to transform irrigation management with the help of Copernicus.

Unlike traditional approaches targeting agricultural cooperatives, this project took a unique approach by directly engaging Austrian farmers. Recognising the pivotal role of farmers in the implementation of effective irrigation strategies, GIS and remote sensing experts worked with them to ensure the project’s success.

The cost-efficiency of integrating Sentinel data

A key feature of the project was the integration of Sentinel data, a part of the Copernicus programme. This integration reduced the cost of getting images, offering a more cost-effective solution compared to commercial alternatives. While commercial data expenses ranged from EUR 2.5 to EUR 4.3 per hectare per year, the Sentinel-2 data-based service cost approximately EUR 1.25 per hectare per year.

Experts were able to compare irrigation volumes estimated from satellite data with actual volumes used by farmers. This assessment gauged the efficiency of water usage and laid the groundwork for improvements. The project delivered crop development maps every 7 to 10 days, providing a spatial resolution between 10 to 20 meters. Daily forecasts, evapotranspiration maps, and specific irrigation requirements tailored to crop types empowered farmers to make informed decisions.

The project received a positive response from the participating farmers. And with a typical farmer irrigating up to 2,000 cubic meters per hectare annually, the reduced cost of the Copernicus-enabled service translated into substantial savings. On top of the savings, the information from Copernicus is working to promote and support sustainable water management practices, helping to protect the longevity of agriculture in the region.