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Potentials of Geodatainfrastructures for Agriculture
GIS-Coordination and Project-Management
Institute for Agricultural and Forestal Informatics
Robert-Kochstrasse 27, 48149 Münster, Germany
The following paper tries to give the reader an overview about the potentials of geodatainfrastructures for agriculture from an European point of view. There is no doubt: agriculture is a true spatial domain. Agricultural activities are influencing its environment and the environment itself has its influence on agriculture. Agriculture causes a lot of spatial questions and problematics that need to be answered. GeoInformation(GI-)-technology has become the technique worldwide to work on digital spatial data processing in every field of application. Using GIS as one facet of GI-technology has a quiet long tradition in agriculture, e.g. in precision farming. However, from the European point of view the situation regarding the use of GI-technology in agriculture is changing. GI-technology is on the move from just being one (niche-) technology in agriculture to become one of the top-ranking technologies. And the two main driving forces behind this evolution are a. the new demands to the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) for agricultural subsidiaries of the European Union (EU) and b. the efforts that are done with regard to the erection of well working geodatainfrastructures, to ensure easy, fast, secure and transparent access to geoinformation through corresponding geo-services.
From the beginning of 2005 on, the use of GI-technology within IACS will be obligatory in the current member states of the EU and its future member-states. Herewith GI-technology enters the most central field of application of the agricultural administration in Europe and so it touches most of the farmers in Europe, because farmers are financially depending to a certain degree on subsidiaries. The new demands to IACS are based on European Commission (EC) regulation 1593/2000. The integration of GI-technology into IACS is said to enhance especially the controlling capabilities of the system. However, it’s the first time that GI-technology finds access to agriculture on such a broad basis, in terms of a mass phenomena. Beside the technology-integration it is important to underline the fact, that within the framework of IACS 2005 so called Land Parcel Information Systems (LPIS) are set up (must be set up) within every country of the EU. These LPIS are representing in their most precise shape the single agricultural field-unit (crop-unit) as a geo-referenced digital geometry. Having access to such a layer is the essential parameter if a deep and successful integration of GI-technology into agriculture is intended, because in plant-production the focus is obvious on this unit. EC regulation 1593/2000 is definitely the recent pushing factor for GI-technology-use in agriculture. But there are several other regulations on European level that are already forcing the use of GI-technology as well or are making it obligatory to use this technolgy, like for example the Water Framework Directive. And there is clear evidence that the use of GI-technology will become a key-demand within the field of quality assurance, -documentation, risk management, tracking and tracing in agriculture in near future based on legal regulations as well.
The Need for Geodatainfrastructures
As many other GI-technology-application domains agriculture is a very complex and dynamic discipline, heavily depending on the access to necessary geoadata. But: digital geodata is already available (quiet often in an acceptable quality), basic (e.g. orthophotos, topographic maps, elevation models) and specific (e.g. watershed-boundaries, soil data, climatic data) geodata; it is rather a problem to get access to and about this data, information. And that’s exactly where the idea of geodatainfrastructures comes into the game. Geodatainfrastructures intend to give easy access to any kind of geodata via geo-services based on international standards like OGC and ISO. They want to make the geodata-market transparent, they want to stimulate the geoinformation-business and of course they want to make data and applications interoperable in front of the background to overcome monolithic system approaches. Especially the latter aspect is seen as one of the most hemming factors for geo-business in general. And that’s why on European as on member-country-level a lot of work is in process to built such well working geodatainfrastructures. On European level the INSPIRE-project and from the authors point of view the geodatainfrastructure initiative of the state of Northrhine-Westfalia (GDI NRW) in Germany must be mentioned. Being responsible for the GI-technology integration in the state of NRW the author knows about the urgent need for well-working geodatainfrastructures, not only from the administrative perspective. Having already erected their own geodataservers (ORACLE plus ArcSDE), the department of agriculture for NRW is still in trouble with handling all the basic geodata which is coming from external sources like the ordnance survey of the state or specific data like natural protection areas on their own geodataservers. So, basically this geodata is not left at its orign which is clearly one basic demand of geodatainfrastructures. This fact causes a lot of work with regard to administrating, maintaining and keeping the data actual. What the department for example wants to see in the near future is, that it just has to administrate its own data (e.g field-unit cadastre, farm-site locations) on their geodataservers. Moreover the department of agriculture NRW is also hosting the department of forestry for the state which doesn’t make the situation concerning data and software easier, because the department of forestry is using different software working with completely incompatible dataformats. So the basic geodata is hosted twice for the whole state of NRW in one administrative unit which is seen as an absolutely intolerable situation. Beside all the problems from the administrative point of view the author also knows about the problems that farmers recently have when they want to use GI-technology and geodata on their farm. Geodata and information about it is hard to access, prices are unacceptable, systems are to complex and not compatible.
Recent activities and perspectives
In front of the background of the problems described in the previous chapter, a special interest group (SIG) agriculture and forestry (SIG A + F) has been founded within GDI NRW in Germany. The single working groups of the SIG A + F have basically the task to formulate the demands of agriculture and forestry to the initiative. One of the core tasks is the access to the basic geodata by the concerned administrative units. However, very promising are the activities of the ordnance survey of the state of NRW which already is able to serve a lot of their basic geodata via the states administration-intranet to their clients (e.g. dept. of agriculture) based on OGC specifications. Moreover the department of agriculture of the state is working on a so called field-unit-geo-service (-client), allowing farmers to access their digital field-units and corresponding alphanumeric information in combination with aerial photographies via the internet. The field-units are kept on the geodataserver of the department of agriculture and the aerial photographies are served by the ordnance survey. The service itself will be offered by the department of agriculture and the farmers must pay a contribution to the ordnance survey for using their photographies. The basic field-unit service is seen just as the starting agricultural geo-service which will be extended in future in terms of offering real agricultural consulting opportunities via internet-based agro-geo-services.
One of the most interesting fields of agricultural applications for geodatainfrastructures will be the area of food-production. Having access to precise field-cadastres and other agriculturally relevant (geo-) data in a distributed environment through a geodatainfrastructure will give a completely new perspective to topics like risk management and quality assurance. By corresponding geo-services food-producers can optimise their business processes on the one side and on the other side they can give their consumers even information back to the single field-unit.