Since 25 years, the JRC's 'MARS' Bulletins bring independent and timely forecasts on crop yields in Europe to inform the management of the European agricultural market.
The JRC monitors crops and forecasted crop yields and production since 1993.
The main findings of the crop monitoring activities are collected in monthly MARS Bulletins published on the JRC website and downloaded by users all over the world.
By providing independent and timely information, the Bulletins enable the Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG-AGRI) of the European Commission to manage the common agricultural policy (CAP) of the EU more effectively.
The Special Issue The European crop monitoring and yield forecasting system: Celebrating 25 years of JRC MARS Bulletins published in the journal Agricultural Systems, contains a set of papers covering the history and development of the different tools and methodologies used in the JRC's Crop Yield Forecasting System (MCYFS).
We discussed with JRC researchers Marijn Van Der Velde and Bettina Baruth the challenges and achievements of the past years. Bettina is one of the editors of the MARS Bulletin and Marijn is responsible for the statistical infrastructure of the MARS Crop Yield Forecasting System.
Q: Marijn, how did the crop forecasting system come to life?
Marijn: "It was the Commission's DG AGRI who requested this from the JRC. They needed timely information about the impact of weather conditions on crop yields, to be able to manage the European agricultural market and prices.
The JRC developed its Crop Yield Forecasting System (MCYFS) in 1989. The system monitors crop growth, including the short-term effects of meteorological events on crop production, and provides seasonal yield forecasts of key European crops.
The weather monitoring component was the first part that became operational. We used it directly for the experimental Yield Surface Production Report on Agriculture Bulletin in 1992.
It was then complemented by crop growth model simulations and remotely sensed information. After that, we continued to develop the system to respond to increasing monitoring demands and rapid technological advances."
Q: What are the main achievements of this activity?
Bettina: "Over the past 25 years, the EU expanded from 12 to 28 Member States and the total annual EU production of wheat has doubled from about 70 to 140 Mt.
We are proud to contribute to the management of the agricultural market of the EU. For example, we contribute regularly to DG-AGRI’s Short-term Market Outlook.
We have been a part of and maintained an international network of experts on crop forecasts.
And we were acknowledged at international level by becoming co-chair of the Group on Earth Observation Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) Initiative."
Q: What are the main upcoming objectives and challenges?
Marijn: "In the future we want to make an increased use of the Copernicus services in order to exploit their full potential for crop yield forecasting.
In terms of technology, we are looking into faster computation in order to make more timely use of near-real-time information from crop models. We also want to integrate some missing processes by means of big data and alternative data sources.
As far as the challenges go, climate change, coupled with the need to increase crop production to feed a growing population, will make it necessary to have better and earlier crop forecasts.
We hope that the Special Issue of the MARS can contribute to galvanize renewed efforts in the development and sharing of data, methods, technologies, approaches, and communication of crop yield forecasts."
Q: How has the dissemination of the MARS Bulletin evolved over the past 25 years?
Bettina: "The most striking evolution in this regard is that our reader base has increased way beyond DG-AGRI and the EU.
The Bulletin is currently downloaded in more than 32 countries across the world and in 2018 we saw close to 10.000 downloads.
The current readership of the Bulletin is diverse and it includes – but is not limited to – governments, private companies, the media, universities, and research institutions."
The Agricultural Systems Special Issue on the JRC MARS Bulletin and yield forecasts is available at: