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Marginal lands for Growing Industrial Crops: Turning a burden into an opportunity

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MAGIC (Marginal lands for Growing Industrial Crops: Turning a burden into an opportunity)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

MAGIC aims towards the development of resource-efficient and economically profitable industrial crops to be grown on marginal land. In the long term, this strategy will foster the sustainable development of the EU bio-based economy and will contribute to achieving EU energy and climate targets. The specific objectives are:
1. To develop an up-to-date database (MAGIC-CROPS) of existing resource-efficient industrial crops, which will provide information on their agronomic characteristics, input requirements, yield performance and qualitative traits for innovative bio-based applications.
2. To identify, though a multi-actor approach inclusive of stakeholders, the most promising industrial crops suitable for production on European land facing natural constraints .
3. To map, characterise and analyse projections of current and future marginal land in Europe facing natural constraints and provide a spatially explicit classification that will serve as a basis for developing sustainable best-practice options for industrial crops in Europe.
4. To create new breeding tools and strategies towards better varieties of the selected industrial crops that will be resource-efficient and can be profitably cultivated on marginal land in Europe.
5. To identify and improve appropriate agronomic practices with limited input-requirements for the selected resource-efficient industrial crops.
6. To develop suitable harvesting strategies and logistics for the selected industrial crops on marginal land so that the performance of the whole biomass supply-chain is optimized.
7. To maximise the impact of MAGIC through the provision of objective information regarding all important sustainability aspects (covering environment, society and economy) of the value chains using scientific, transparent and reproducible methodologies.
8. To analyse success stories of the selected industrial crops in European regions addressing technical, environmental, economic and social issues and to produce policy recommendations and best-practice guidelines in order to promote the appropriate sourcing of renewable materials from marginal land at local/regional level.
9. To develop, test and disseminate a Decision Support System (DSS) with the active involvement of farmers and other end users (industry & policy makers).
10. To disseminate the project results, the database, the maps and the DSS tool to increase farmers’ awareness and establish strong links with EIP AGRI
In MAGIC the most promising industrial crops (20) to be grown on marginal lands facing natural constraints have been selected, which can be grouped as follows: a) oilseeds: camelina, crambe, Ethiopian mustard, castor been, safflower, pennycress, b) carbohydrate: lupin, sorghum and c) lignocellulosic including fibre crops (industrial hemp and sorghum), perennial herbaceous (switchgrass, giant reed, miscanthus, reed canary grass, tall wheat grass, cardoon) and woody species (willow, poplar, eucalyptus, black locust and Siberian Elm).

For the selected crops a large number of field trials (small and large) are being carried out for three subsequent years throughout Europe (including Ukraine) as well as pot trials for testing the adaptability and productivity of the selected industrial crops on contaminated lands with heavy metals. Moreover, a large number of already established field trials on previous research projects on marginal lands (giant reed, switchgrass, miscanthus, willow and poplar) for perennial industrial crops are on-progress and valuable long-term data is being collected. The field trials established in MAGIC under an effective combination of low-inputs in accordance with the specific marginality factors of each field trial. Trials are covering all the marginality factors of JRC report with the addition of contaminated land. Moreover, previously established field trials of perennial crops on marginal land are being maintained in order to continue collecting long-term annual yield performance. Guidelines for farmers on how to grow industrial crops on marginal land will be set-up in the 2nd reporting period and will be distributed and discussed with farmers in national workshops.

New breeding tools and strategies are being developed to accelerate the genetic improvement of biomass yields and quality of the selected industrial crops. Two parallel approaches have been employed; a) Universal genetic markers for fibre quality will be identified using forward genetics (from phenotype to candidate genes) and b) Universal candidate genes responsible for oil quality will be validated using a reverse genetics (from candidate gene to phenotype) approach. A set of varieties / genotypes (crambe, camelina, hemp and miscanthus) have been selected (based on previous research projects findings) and were distributed to the partners for field trials.

Three tools have been developed and are available online (draft versions) in the project website ( a) a data base for industrial crops that can be grown on marginal lands (MAGIC-CROPS), b) maps with the marginal lands in Europe (MAGIC-MAPS) and c) a decision support system for farmers and relevant stakeholders (MAGIC-DSS).
The efficiency of biomass supply chains of industrial crops are being improved through the design of new harvesting and logistics systems, optimized to meet the needs of the targeted conversion process. Technologies tailored to the characteristics of the specific crops grown on marginal land are being developed through comprehensive data collection ad hoc field trials. A generic tool is being expanded and adapted to ensure an optimal match between the potential production of biomass from marginal lands and candidate conversion processes, resulting in an economically sound demand-driven approach to bio-based projects.

The Good Practice Cases in European regions and clusters have been mapped. These good practice cases are being analyzed to maximize insight on the context of using marginal land for cropping, the state and prospects for industrial crops, the conditions framing their cultivation and the supply chains as well as their operational capacities across time and development stages.

MAGIC established a direct communication with the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP AGRI) and its structures (Focus Groups, Service Point, Operational Groups, etc.). In collaboration with PANACEA project proposed a new focus group (FG 40) on industrial crops that was run in 2020.
The main advances of MAGIC are: a) development of three tools (MAGIC CROPS database, MAGIC MAPS & MAGIC-DSS), b) breeding and agricultural practices of resource use efficient industrial crops
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