July 31, 2004
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that global positioning satellites (GPS) and high altitude spy plane photos are being used aggressively in the EU to combat agricultural fraud. Farm subsidies are given according to acreage or the number of trees claimed. Aerial photos can allow auditors to actually verify the tree counts and calculate acreage. EU inspectors on the ground can walk around a very irregular field with a GPS device which will instantly calculate the area. 43% of the EU's €100 billion budget is spent on agricultural and rural development subsidies.
Increased monitoring started in 1981 when EU officials became suspicious as olive oil subsidies to farmers in Italy tripled. Audits found fraud on a massive scale. Parking lots and forests were being claimed as olive orchards. Hundreds were arrested including members of the Mafia and local governments. The EU now has a registry of 600 million olive trees.
An aerial photo of olive trees in Ojai, CA
For those who want to count olive trees in the U.S., the Geological Survey has aerial and topographic maps on the TerraServer homepage. Unfortunately you can't spy on your neighbor's trees unless they have been in the ground for awhile. Most of the photos are at least a decade old.