GEOG 597i
Critical Geospatial Thinking and Applications

Von Thünen’s Rural Land Use Model

Given the parameters set by von Thünen for his hypothetical “isolated state,” the resultant spatial model appeared as concentric circles of rural land use around a central market community. 

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Figure 5.3: Von Thünen's model: the black dot represents a city; 1 (white) dairy and market gardening; 2 (green) forest for fuel; 3 (yellow) grains and field crops; 4 (red) ranching; the outer, dark green area represents wilderness where agriculture is not profitable.
Credit: "Von Thünen circles city" by Erin Silversmith - Vector image based on von Thünen circles city.gif by Bkwillwm, in turn based on the description on the Wikipedia article on von Thünen and Human Geography: Culture, Society, and Space by H.J. de Blij and B. Murphy (7th edition, 2003). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The von Thünen model, as seen above, is as follows. The first ring around the market community is dedicated to market gardening and fresh milk production. That is because milk products and garden crops, such as lettuce, spoil quickly. Remember that at the time von Thünen developed this model, there was not refrigeration. Therefore, it was necessary to get perishable produce to the market immediately. Because of this, producers of perishable crops were willing to outbid producers of less perishable crops in order to gain access to the land closest to the market. This means that land close to the community created a higher level of economic rent.

The second ring, von Thünen believed, would be dedicated to the production and harvest of forest products. This was because, in the early 19th century, people used wood for building, cooking, and heating. Wood is bulky and heavy and therefore difficult to transport. Still, it is not nearly as perishable as milk or fresh vegetables. For those reasons, von Thünen reasoned that wood producers would bid more for the second ring of land around the market center than all other producers of food and fiber, except for those engaged in the production of milk and fresh vegetables. 

The third ring, von Thünen believed, would be dedicated to crop rotation systems. In his time, rye was the most important cash grain crop. Inside the third ring, however, von Thünen believed there would be differences in the intensity of cultivation. Because the cost of gaining access to the land (rent) drops with distance from the city, those farming at the other edges of the ring would find that increased transportation costs would be offset by lower rents. Moreover, because those farming the outer edges would pay less rent, the level of input they could invest prior to reaching the point of decreasing marginal returns (the term “marginal returns” refers to changes in production relative to changes in input), would be at a lower level than would be the case for those paying higher rent in order to be closer to the market. Therefore, they would not farm as intensely as those working land closer to the urban center. 

The fourth ring would be dedicated to livestock ranching. Von Thünen reasoned that unlike perishable or bulky items, animals could be walked to the market. Additionally, products such as wool, hide, horn, and so on could be transported easily without concern about spoilage. 

In von Thünen's model, wilderness bounded the outer margins of von Thünen’s isolated state. These lands, he argued, would eventually develop rent value, as the population of the state increased.

Check Your Understanding

Short Answer

What is the only variable in von Thünen’s rural land-use model?



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ANSWER:
Distance from the market
 

 

 

Check Your Understanding

Short Answer

Characterize von Thünen’s model of rural land use.



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ANSWER:
Von Thünen based his model on a flat plane in which land uses were solely a product of location relative to a market town. In such a situation, he believed, land uses would be naturally arranged in a pattern of concentric circles. In this model, the land closest to the market would generate the highest economic rent. Producers of perishable products such as milk and fresh vegetables would pay the highest rent in order to be located close to the market, whereas those who produce livestock would locate further from the center because they could move their animals to the market without fear of spoilage. Thus, land used for grazing is worth less than land situated in close proximity to the market.