Dutch government publishing open satellite data to improve agricultural production (Dutch National Satellite Data Portal)

The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs invests EUR 1.4 million to acquire satellite data that farmers can use to increase the sustainability and efficiency of their production. The data contains detailed information on the soil, the atmosphere, and the development of crops, and will be published as open data on the National Satellite Data Portal.

The first datasets were acquired last March. This information has already been made available on the portal.

Policy Context

Despite its small land area — roughly 200 by 300 kilometres — the Netherlands is the world's second-largest exporter of food and agricultural products, after the USA. Among the organisations making up this highly automated industry are Wageningen University & Research (WUR), companies specialising in all sorts of technology for food processing and agriculture, and the giant Unilever.

In a recent letter to the Dutch Parliament, Martijn van Dam, the State Secretary for Economic Affairs — now as part of a caretaker government — argued that precision farming can improve the sustainability and efficiency of agriculture and horticulture, and showed how this development can lead to the export of new knowledge and technologies.

Dutch National Testing Ground for Precision Farming

The investment in satellite data is related to the Dutch National Testing Ground for Precision Farming (NPPL) project, which recently received a subsidy of EUR 2 million. The Dutch government expects the private sector to contribute another 8 million, which will make the budget of this project EUR 10 million over a period of four years.

The Testing Ground will be used to develop innovative technologies to increase the sustainability and efficiency of the Dutch agricultural sector. Examples might include drones that detect plant diseases and send back coordinates for targeted spraying, and sensors that allow for automated provisioning of water and fertiliser. The new facility serves as a place to test and further develop these types of innovations, and then showcase them to interested farmers.

Other projects in this area initiated by the Ministry of Economic Affairs include 'HighTech 2 Feed the World' (EUR 16.5 million), two new investment funds (EUR 24 million), and start-up accelerators (EUR 500,000).

Description of target users and groups

According to the Ministry's press release, satellite data in its raw shape is hard to use directly. So the Ministry expects the datasets to be taken up by knowledge institutes and specialized companies, which will analyse it and transform it into information that can be used directly by farmers. Growers could, for example, receive targeted advice on irrigation, fertilisation and spraying for their plots.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

One example is the Green Monitor portal, which publishes topical information on vegetation (biomass). The underlying data is partly sourced from the US Geological Survey (USGS), a government agency.

Another example is Akkerweb, which provides growers with a free service to aggregate all the data on their plots in one central place, enrich it with external information, and share it with business partners and advisors.

Smart growing applications like these allow farmers to save on fuel, seeds, fertilisers, plant protection products, and water.

According to Jasper van Loon, Specialist in Satellite Applications at the Netherlands Space Office (NSO), the datasets available on the portal have already been used in many applications. For example, in land use mapping, wetland monitoring, land deformation measurements, drought monitoring, change detection, and market predictions.

Technology solution

The data comes from low-orbit earth observation satellites circling our planet at altitudes between 500 and 900 kilometres. Using specialised cameras, these fast-moving satellites collect data from the earth's surface giving information on soil quality, humidity, temperature, atmosphere and so on. Additionally, their data streams can be used to analyse the development of crops, and their nitrogen and starch contents, for example.

Main results, benefits and impacts

According to Van Loon, over the last few years satellite data has improved considerably in terms of precision, availability and quality. The red-edge band of the RapidEye constellation and the Sentinel-2 constellation — both present in our data portal — provides further insight into the health of crops.

Return on investment

According to Van Loon, the Return on Investment (RoI) from deploying this type of data in the agricultural sector is hard to quantify. The benefits, however, are clear. For the individual farmer, the data from our portal removes a large part of the costs of precision farming. Furthermore, the government can use the data in a variety of operational services to make these more efficient — for example, in monitoring the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP, the EU agricultural policy), vegetation mapping, drought monitoring, and change detection.

Track record of sharing

The satellite data is published as open data on the Dutch National Satellite Data Portal. The portal is maintained by the Netherlands Space Office, the space agency of the Dutch government.

The Satellite Data Portal provides raw satellite data as well as processed data (e.g. GIS-ready maps) of the Netherlands, including the coastal zones and inland waters. The data and maps can be downloaded via the electronic web service or through the web interface.

All the information is available for free to Dutch users. Our government has bought the data to make governmental processes more efficient and make these datasets available to citizens and industry, Van Loon explains. You need to be registered as a Dutch entity to obtain this data. If you want to retrieve the information from outside the Netherlands, you can contact the data providers directly, as the data has already been acquired and is non-exclusive.

Lessons learnt

The Satellite Data Portal started as a provisional service to fill the gap before the launch of the Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 missions. Now that these satellites are operational, the data portal has entered a new phase in which higher-resolution data is being obtained, Van Loon says. From here the portal should evolve into a sustainable solution in which a group of governmental users will finance the data acquisition.

Scope: National


Type of document
General case study


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