Abstract Natural capital (land, water, air) consists of many resources, each with its own quality, dynamics and renewability, but with strong interactions. The increasing competition for the natural resources, especially land and water, calls for a basic redirection in the analysis of land use. In this paper, the land use analysis cycle is introduced and recent methodological developments for supporting some of its distinct phases are illustrated. Tools are available to quantify the production possibilities for various crops at plot or field scale, though the accuracy of the estimates decreases as less of the production factors are under control. Illustrations are given for quantitative analysis of management options at the farm level. In terms of explorative studies these tools appear highly successful and where the socio-economic environment is conducive, results of such analysis can indeed form the basis for formulation of development options. Tools have been developed for quantitative analysis at (sub-)regional level, that allow exploration of the outer envelope of development possibilities. The examples still largely bear an academic character, but as the demand by policy makers for integrated land use analysis studies increases, they may serve as building blocks for development of operational methodologies for land use policy formulation and analysis. Their potential impacts on planning procedures and achievement of land use objectives are high, particularly when they are further developed in settings that allow participation and involvement of the various user groups.