Spy equipment is now being used to monitor farmers in the EU to ensure that any of them who claim more EU subsidies than they should, or who break Common Agricultural Policy rules, will be caught out. Spy equipment is coming, in the form of sky spy cameras installed within drones which will fly over farmland to find out what’s really going on in farmer’s fields.
Why bother you may well ask? Well, Europe’s farms actually cost taxpayers billions of euros in subsidies each year, and EU agricultural inspectors are turning to technology to improve their patchy record on preventing fraud and waste. Satellites have already been in use for several years, but these new drones would be a huge leap forward, and they are currently undergoing trials.
To scan a farm with a satellite costs about £115 per scan. Sending an inspector out on a field visit costs £310. The satellites are able to rapidly cover a huge area in detail and quickly return to photograph it again if necessary. Although the satellites work out far cheaper, mistakes can be made (such as a large haystack resembling an illegal outbuilding for instance) so a visit in person, although more expensive, may be needed.
Also, there are some circumstances where satellites are not practical. Austria refuse to use them, as the shadows which are cast by mountainous terrain can sometimes make satellite images inaccurate. Scotland also decided against using the satellites sue to difficulty in getting enough clear weather for flyovers
Farmers are required by law to keep their land in “good agricultural and environmental condition” in order to qualify for subsidies, so images can also reveal whether farmers are complying with rules on things such as hedges and ponds. A farmer who breaks the rules risks losing 3% of his or her direct payment – and more if it is a repeat offence.
Spy equipment in the form of drones would be more useful that satellites as they are able to pick up finer details. They can get up close and take sharp photographs – and unlike satellites, which always look directly down, drones can get an angled view of their subject.
The drones are currently being trialled across Europe.