The production of food is considered to have priority over fuel and fiber. According to this “food first” principle, only agricultural land not used to produce crops or fodder is included in analyses to determine the production potential of perennial biomass crops (PBC) for the bioeconomy. Previous assessments report remarkably high future PBC potentials in the EU from surplus agricultural area (7–48 Mha) that is expected to be released from current agricultural use largely due to agricultural intensification.
To better understand the implications of specific land use policies on land availability for PBC cultivation in the EU, we conducted a sensitivity analysis using the agricultural sector model, ESIM (European Simulation Model). Four factors were considered: crop yields, livestock demand, market liberalization, and world food prices.
Our results from these scenarios show that freed-up surplus agricultural area for PBC in the EU ranges from 0 to 6.5 Mha (0 to 15.0 Mha, if fallow land is included) until 2050. This figure is much smaller than those reported in previous studies. Freed-up surplus agricultural area is mostly influenced by market liberalization policies and world food prices. Crop yield enhancement and diet change that favors less animal protein have smaller implications because, unless there are incentives for farmers to adopt PBC, a production surplus or deficit is translated into international trade rather than into cultivation areas.
Our results imply that differences in assessment models and socio-economic scenarios regarding EU agricultural policy, as well as world food prices, create significant uncertainties regarding the extent of freed-up surplus agricultural area in the EU. If other factors like topography or use restrictions due to nature conservation are taken into account, the potential area will most likely decrease further.