Changing environmental characteristics of European cropland
The spatial configuration of agricultural systems is continuously changing in response to changes in demand for agricultural goods, changes in the level of competition between different land use activities, and progress in agricultural technology. This may lead to a change in the location of agricultural systems and consequently to a change in their average environmental characteristics. This paper explores the change in environmental characteristics of cropland (horticulture and field crops) over the years 1950, 1990 and 2000, for Western and Eastern Europe, using basic descriptive statistics. Underlying mechanisms are explored with logistic (interaction) regression analysis. We find that in both Eastern and Western Europe, crop cultivation shifted away from cities. In Western Europe cropland became situated on shallower soils, steeper slopes, and drier and less accessible areas. Probable reasons are that technical progress reduced the importance of traditional constraints such as drought, poor soils, and distance from markets, so that crop farmers were allowed to move to warm and sunny areas where potential productivity is highest. In addition, cropland probably lost some of its competitive power to grassland and nature. In Eastern Europe cropland concentrated on deeper soils and flatter terrain from 1990 onward. Here, the abandonment of the central planning system and a more flexible land market must have allowed a shift of cropland towards more suitable locations.
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