EU Science Hub

Agricultural Land Abandonment in the EU within 2015-2030

In the period 2015-2030 about 11% (more than 20 million ha) of agricultural land in the EU are under high potential risk of abandonment  due to factors, related to biophysical land suitability, farm structure and agricultural viability, population and regional specifics. The risk for around 800 thousand ha (0.4%), located in Southern and Eastern Romania, Southwestern France, Southern and central Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Poland, Latvia and Estonia, is particularly severe.

Economic factor and market instruments (including the EU Common Agricultural Policy) could largely mitigate those potential risks in a number, mostly Eastern countries and regions – Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Cyprus. The incremental abandonment within 2015-2030 is nevertheless projected to reach 4.2 million ha net (about 280 thousand ha per year on average) of agricultural land, bringing the total abandoned land to 5.6 million ha by 2030, the equivalent of 3% of total agricultural land. This would be an alarming trend, considering that the decrease in agricultural land over the same period of time is estimated to be three times smaller, around 1%.

Amongst EU Member States, Spain (in particular North / Northwest) and Poland (where the largest single loss at NUTS 3 level is projected for the Chelmsko-zamojski region – 85 thousand ha) are likely to face by far the greatest agricultural land abandonment in both absolute and relative terms. The two countries will account for 1/3 of EU total loss and Spain will be the only EU country to miss more than 1 million ha.

In absolute terms, France (South / Southeast), the United Kingdom, Germany (Western parts) and Italy (especially Sardinia) complement Spain and Poland in the group of the largest agricultural land abandonment in the EU, altogether responsible for more than 70% of losses. Owing to the large total agricultural land, the relative shrinkage will be less pronounced in Germany and especially – France, both countries standing below the 3% EU average. In relative terms, the Netherlands (notably South Limburg), Northern Portugal, Finland, Greece (particularly Korinthia and Lefkada island) and especially Slovakia (4.6% loss) are expected to be above the 3% EU average.

Arable land is projected to account for the largest share of abandoned land, followed by pastures and permanent crops. This is proportional to the prevailing breakdown of agricultural land by types, where arable land is the largest group, while the permanent crops are the smallest one. Permanent crops will account for a significant, albeit not dominant share in abandonment in Southern Europe – Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The bulk of abandoned agricultural land (4.8 million ha gross) is likely to remain unused within 2015-2030 because of negligible re-cultivation of once-abandoned land. Less than 600 thousand ha are only projected to convert into forests and natural areas, while the conversion into build-up area will be minimal – just 18 thousand ha.