WHAT is Marginal Land

Marginal land is land that has little or no potential for profit, and often has poor soil or other undesirable characteristics. This land is often located at the edge of deserts or other desolate areas. Land that is a prohibitive distance from roads and other means of transportation is often labeled marginal. In the U.S. much of it can be found in the southwest, in such states as Nevada and Arizona.


Marginal land is low in value. Sometimes called "degraded," "idle" or "surplus" land, it is marked by its inability to produce crops of any kind or otherwise yield a profit. More specifically, crops produced on marginal land would be worth less than the cost of renting it. Marginal land has often been negatively affected by human activity such as industrial pollution. It may also suffer from insufficient water supply or a sever slope.

One common type of marginal land is land that was once used for agricultural or other human purposes and has since been abandoned. Such sites are often marked by erosion, salinization and/or low organic carbon contents. Disused farms and pasturelands, as well as abandoned mines, are examples of this type of marginal land.

As is clear from the above example, land that was once productive can become marginal and vice versa. These transitions depend not only on the land itself, but on the market value of products that the land can yield. If the market value of a crop rises dramatically, for example, land that was once marginal may become productive again.

Additionally, land that is designated marginal in one location may not qualify as marginal if it were in a different region. For example, in a productive agricultural region such as the American Midwest, land that is less than ideal for corn and soybeans may be labeled marginal, even though land with the same soil characteristics may be suitable for growing other, less profitable crops.

Possible Uses for Marginal Land

Marginal land is not always unusable for human purposes. It can serve as grazing grounds for certain free-roaming livestock, for example. Some have suggested using marginal lands to produce biofuel, since it could be used to produce biomass without pushing out traditional crops and competing with farmland. Plants that could be used for this purpose include switchgrass, shrub willow and giant miscanthus.

Land that has been set aside for reasons not having to do with productivity generally does not fall under the category of marginal land. Examples of this sort of land include state and national parks.