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Mapping Marginal land potentially available for industrial crops in Europe



In MAGIC a first EU wide map is created to assess options for sustainably use of marginal lands to grow industrial crops. The approach builds on the JRC work to identify Areas of Natural Constraints (ANCs) (Van Oorschoven et al., 2014 and Terres et al., 2014) and other land evaluation systems for agronomic suitability. The results describe the location and amount of marginal land area across Europe and what the main characteristics are in terms of biophysical and socio-economic limitations. This classification serves as a basis for developing sustainable best-practice options for industrial cropping in Europe on marginal lands.
Mapping Marginal land potentially
available for industrial crops in Europe
Berien Elbersen*, Michiel van Eupen*, Stephan Mantel#, Efi Alexopoulou>, Zanghou Bai#, Hendrik Boogaard*, Juan Carrasco+, Tomaso
Ceccarelli*, Carlos Ciria Ramos+, P. Ciria+, Salvatore Cosentino%, Wolter Elbersen*, Ioannis Eleftheriadis>, Steffen Fritz$, Benoit
Gabrielle&, Yasir Iqbal^, Iris Lewandowski^, Ian McCallum$, Andrea Monti++, Sander Mucher, M, Sanz+, Danilo Scordia%, Simone
Verzandvoort*, Moritz Von Cossel^ & Federica Zanetti++
* Wageningen Research/# ISRIC/ $ IIASA/ ^Uni. Hohenheim/ +Ciemat/ ++Uni.Bologna/ % Uni.CATANIA/ > CRES/ & INRA
In recent decades, the concept of marginal land has gained increasing
interest under growing land use pressure owing to the increased
demand for biomass for non-food purposes in biobased industries.
In total 29% of the agricultural area is marginal in EU-28. The most
common is the rooting limitations, with 12% of the agricultural area
after correction for improvement. This is followed by adverse climate
and excessive soil moisture occurring in respectively 11% and 8% of
the agricultural land. The largest share of marginal lands is defined by
one of the 6 clustered limitations, while in a much smaller share
multiple limitations occur.
This paper is presenting the work performed in Work Package 2 of the project MAGIC Marginal
lands for Growing Industrial Crops: Turning a burden into an opportunity.
In MAGIC a first EU wide map is created to assess options for
sustainably use of marginal lands to grow industrial crops.
The approach builds on the JRC work to identify Areas of Natural
Constraints (ANCs) (Van Oorschoven et al., 2014 and Terres et al.,
2014) and other land evaluation systems for agronomic suitability. The
results describe the location and amount of marginal land area across
Europe and what the main characteristics are in terms of biophysical
and socio-economic limitations. This classification serves as a basis for
developing sustainable best-practice options for industrial cropping in
Europe on marginal lands.
Table 1. Land area share (%/agricultural area)* of total and 6 clusters of biophysical
constraints making up marginal lands for EU-28 (total) and per Environmental zone
Biophysical factors have been identified for the classification of
severe limitations; 18 single factors, grouped into 6 clustered
1. Adverse climate (low temperature and/or dryness)
2. Excessive wetness (Limited soil drainage or excess soil moisture)
3. Low soil fertility (acidity, alkalinity or low soil organic matter)
4. Adverse chemical conditions (Salinity or contaminations)
5. Poor rooting conditions (low rootable soil volume or unfavourable soil texture)
6. Adverse terrain conditions (steep slopes, inundation risks)
The land units were identified with biophysical factors within the
20% margin of the threshold value of severity. This allows to map
pair-wise limitations. When two factors are within this 20% margin
the land units were classified from sub-severe to severe.
A correction in the map was made by excluding areas where natural
constraints were neutralized to enable high productive agricultural
lands. Such land improvement measures include fertilisation,
irrigation, drainage and creation of terraces.
Google Earth (GE) and Google Street View (GSV) were used for
verification of the MAEZ maps. The correction for management on the
basis of land use intensity works well in general , but it does not
correct enough land for management.
• After expert validation and verification with Google Street view we
conclude that the results are promissing and usuable at a resolution
of 1 km2.
Future improvements will be made by using field information and
high resolution spatial information. This will improve the reliability of
the map at higher resolution (< 1km2) and will provide a better
understanding of current uses and options for industrial cropping.
Wageningen Environmental Research
P.O. Box 47, 6700 BP Wageningen
T + 31 (0)317 481935, M +31 (0)6 53728652
Figure 1. First Map of marginal lands in EU-28: Selected windows: Dominant severe
limitations: 1) Scotland; excessive wetness, climate, limitations in rooting. 2) Hungary:
multiple limiting factors salinity, fertility, excessive wetness and rooting limitations. 3) Ebro
Valley: large concentration of multiple overlapping limitations (all 6)
1. Adverse
2. Excessive
soil moisture
3. Adverse
4. Low soil
5. Adverse
6. Adverse
Not marginal
40% 21% 0% 2% 45% 47% 61% 39%
4% 14% 1% 1% 12% 5% 26% 74%
1% 5% 2% 1% 5% 2% 14% 86%
13% 1% 1% 6% 18% 9% 34% 66%
62% 14% 0% 3% 13% 3% 71% 29%
Grand Total
11% 8% 1% 2% 12% 6% 29% 71%
Figure 2. Validation of the correction for land improvements with the help of Google Street
View in the Ebro Valley (Spain). Area “A” remains marginal with salinity, fertility, and rooting
limitations, while the dryness in area “B” is neutralized by large scale center pivot irrigation.
*area share of the total marginal area in Europe that can be regarded ‘agricultural’ as it has been in continuous or discontinuous
agricultural use (according to Corine Land Cover (CLC)) between 1990 and 2012
Evaluation of results
... (2) Bioenergy crops should be cultivated on marginal agricultural land and thus present no competition to food crop production. Therefore, bioenergy crops have to be able to cope with the given biophysical constraints on marginal agricultural lands [51,55,78,79]. (3) Bioenergy cropping systems (BCS) need to be resilient towards the projected severe climate change effects [80][81][82][83]. ...
... Under these conditions, both heavy rain and wind remove the topsoil layers which, over time, leads to a decrease in the rooting conditions. In the Mediterranean AEZ, an area of approximately 62,000 km² is covered by sites prone to erosion and, in many cases, subject to further degradation [51,78]. Some wooden and perennial lignocellulosic bioenergy crops, such as miscanthus, giant reed, and other perennial grasses [60], provide the opportunity to cope with steep slope conditions and minimize soil erosion [188][189][190]. ...
Full-text available
The growing bioeconomy will require a greater supply of biomass in the future for both bioenergy and bio-based products. Today, many bioenergy cropping systems (BCS) are suboptimal due to either social-ecological threats or technical limitations. In addition, the competition for land between bioenergy-crop cultivation, food-crop cultivation, and biodiversity conservation is expected to increase as a result of both continuous world population growth and expected severe climate change effects. This study investigates how BCS can become more social-ecologically sustainable in future. It brings together expert opinions from the fields of agronomy, economics, meteorology, and geography. Potential solutions to the following five main requirements for a more holistically sustainable supply of biomass are summarized: (i) bioenergy-crop cultivation should provide a beneficial social-ecological contribution, such as an increase in both biodiversity and landscape aesthetics, (ii) bioenergy crops should be cultivated on marginal agricultural land so as not to compete with food-crop production, (iii) BCS need to be resilient in the face of projected severe climate change effects, (iv) BCS should foster rural development and support the vast number of small-scale family farmers, managing about 80% of agricultural land and natural resources globally, and (v) bioenergy-crop cultivation must be planned and implemented systematically, using holistic approaches. Further research activities and policy incentives should not only consider the economic potential of bioenergy-crop cultivation, but also aspects of biodiversity, soil fertility, and climate change adaptation specific to site conditions and the given social context. This will help to adapt existing agricultural systems in a changing world and foster the development of a more social-ecologically sustainable bioeconomy.
... Biomass has also shown potential as a commodity production feedstock which may be grown on marginal lands [11]. Galatsidas et al. demonstrated that users of marginal lands may need to be compensated to make up for the reduced yield [12]. Lignocellulosic biomass can be converted into a range of useful products, such as polyurethane [13] or xylitol [14]. ...
... The biomass yield data describes how much biomass is expected to grow from each unit of land, typically at a much finer resolution than the level of the cellular optimisation. This means there is a distribution of biomass yield rates in each cell, from high producing, good quality land to low producing, poor quality land [11]. Fig. 1 provides an example of a single optimisation cell and the data that is aggregated within. ...
Given the need to shift away from fossil fuels, expanding the role of the bioeconomy is vitally important. Biomass supply chain optimisation is a tool that has been used to help the biomass industry gain a foothold. Biomass supply chain models frequently use the average biomass yield of large areas to calculate overall yield. However, there can be large variation in the biomass yield within those areas, losing useful information. A biomass supply chain optimisation framework has been developed which uses information about the quality of land available by incorporating piecewise linear approximation of the biomass yield distribution into the optimisation. Linear approximations of the biomass yield variability allows the supply chain optimisation model to make more accurate decisions about quantity and location of biomass growth operations, affecting all downstream decisions. A case study of southwest Hungary for potential biomass industry viability has been examined using the framework to illustrate the impact of this yield information in the optimisation. The proposed framework successfully optimised the supply chain while accounting for variability in a spatially distributed resource, found that using the biomass yield estimates reduced the overall land usage by up to 17% in some cases, and improved biomass production by over 7%. Further, it improved biomass output, increasing the quantity of bioproducts which can be produced, and increasing the financial performance, thus demonstrating the importance of including yield variability in the optimisation. This framework could be used for other spatially distributed resources, such as solar insolation or wind availability.
... soils contaminated with trace elements), or are uncultivated or/and adversely affected by climate conditions could be defined as marginal lands 37 . Elbersen et al. mapped 29% of agricultural land in EU being marginal 38 . Production of large quantities of biomass, thus providing the effective phytoremediation showed good potential of using Miscanthus sp. ...
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The determination of the effects of cadmium and mercury on the growth, biomass productivity and phytoremediation potential of Miscanthus × giganteus (MxG) grown on contaminated soil was the main aim of this paper. The use of bioenergy plants as an innovative strategy in phytotechnology gives additional benefits, including mitigation and adaptation to climate change, and soil remediation without affecting soil fertility. An experiment was set up as a randomized complete block design with the treatments varied in concentrations of Cd (0, 10 and 100 mg kg⁻¹ soil) and Hg (0, 2 and 20 mg kg⁻¹ soil) added to the soil. Three vegetative years were studied. Yield values ranged from 6.3–15.5 tDM ha⁻¹, cadmium concentration in plants varied from 45–6758 µg kg⁻¹ and Hg varied from 8.7–108.9 µg kg⁻¹. Values between treatments and years were significantly different. MxG can accumulate and remove very modest amount (up to 293.8 µg Cd and 4.7 µg Hg) per pot per year in aboveground biomass. Based on this data it can be concluded that MxG, as a valuable energy crop, is a potential candidate for the phytostabilization and biomass production on soils contaminated with Cd and Hg moderately.
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Alongside the use of fertilizer and chemical control of weeds, pests, and diseases modern breeding has been very successful in generating cultivars that have increased agricultural production several fold in favorable environments. These typically homogeneous cultivars (either homozygous inbreds or hybrids derived from inbred parents) are bred under optimal field conditions and perform well when there is sufficient water and nutrients. However, such optimal conditions are rare globally; indeed, a large proportion of arable land could be considered marginal for agricultural production. Marginal agricultural land typically has poor fertility and/or shallow soil depth, is subject to soil erosion, and often occurs in semi-arid or saline environments. Moreover, these marginal environments are expected to expand with ongoing climate change and progressive degradation of soil and water resources globally. Crop wild relatives (CWRs), most often used in breeding as sources of biotic resistance, often also possess traits adapting them to marginal environments. Wild progenitors have been selected over the course of their evolutionary history to maintain their fitness under a diverse range of stresses. Conversely, modern breeding for broad adaptation has reduced genetic diversity and increased genetic vulnerability to biotic and abiotic challenges. There is potential to exploit genetic heterogeneity, as opposed to genetic uniformity, in breeding for the utilization of marginal lands. This review discusses the adaptive traits that could improve the performance of cultivars in marginal environments and breeding strategies to deploy them.
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The INTENSE project, supported by the EU Era-Net Facce Surplus, aimed at increasing crop production on marginal land, including those with contaminated soils. A field trial was set up at a former wood preservation site to phytomanage a Cu/PAH-contaminated sandy soil. The novelty was to assess the influence of five organic amendments differing in their composition and production process, i.e. solid fractions before and after biodigestion of pig manure, compost and compost pellets (produced from spent mushroom substrate, biogas digestate and straw), and greenwaste compost, on Cu availability, soil properties, nutrient supply, and plant growth. Organic amendments were incorporated into the soil at 2.3% and 5% soil w/w. Total soil Cu varied from 179 to 1520 mg kg⁻¹, and 1 M NH4NO3-extractable soil Cu ranged from 4.7 to 104 mg kg⁻¹ across the 25 plots. Spring barley (Hordeum vulgare cv. Ella) was cultivated in plots. Changes in physico-chemical soil properties, shoot DW yield, shoot ionome, and shoot Cu uptake depending on extractable soil Cu and the soil treatments are reported. Shoot Cu concentration varied from 45 ± 24 to 140 ± 193 mg kg DW⁻¹ and generally increased with extractable soil Cu. Shoot DW yield, shoot Cu concentration, and shoot Cu uptake of barley plants did not significantly differ across the soil treatments in year 1. Based on soil and plant parameters, the effects of the compost and pig manure treatments were globally discriminated from those of the untreated, greenwaste compost and digested pig manure treatments. Compost and its pellets at the 5% addition rate promoted soil functions related to primary production, water purification, and soil fertility, and the soil quality index.
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