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)
4. Low soil
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%
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