Skip to main content

Assessing Neighbor and Population Growth Influences on Agricultural Land Conversion


This study uses remote sensing data to assess the extent of agricultural land converted to developed (built-up) land in Alberta, Canada, from 2000 to 2012. Pairing aggregated conversion values with county-level census data, we further investigate the impacts of population growth and conversion activities in the neighboring areas on agricultural land conversion. To account for the omitted variable bias and spatial dependency, a first-differenced spatial regression model is used. The results show that spillover effects can be attributed to both neighbor conversion activities and neighboring population growth. Controlling for spatial dependence is important for producing estimates with minimized risk of bias. A policymaker who considers land use strategies in isolation from neighbors may make decisions with potentially adverse impacts. The dominant influences of population growth and spatial lag effects direct recommendations on regional planning mandates and mechanisms that promote densification in urban areas.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. The Edmonton-Calgary Corridor (ECC) makes up just 6 % of the provincial land base, yet as of 2011 contains 74.2 % of the population (Statistics Canada 2011). The ECC includes Edmonton, Calgary, and 12 counties (Sturgeon, Parkland, Strathcona, Leduc, Brazeau, Wetaskawin, Ponoka, Lacombe, Red Deer, Mountain View, Rocky View, and Foothills) connecting these urban centers.

  2. The annual cropland category includes all AAFC categorized non-perennial crops, including grains, oilseeds, horticulture, fallowed land, and land too wet to be seeded. The forest category includes AAFC’s categories of coniferous, broadleaf, and mixed woodland .

  3. Population and agricultural data were not available for the years 2000 and 2012, so the nearest years for which Census of Population and Census of Agriculture data are collected were used instead.

  4. To determine the appropriate weights matrix, a first-order contiguity Queen weights matrix was compared to distance-based weights matrices. Distance-based weights were tested at 5-km intervals from a minimum distance of 20 km to a maximum of 180 km. The 35-km threshold was chosen on the basis of intensity of spatial correlation (the highest Z-score associated with Moran’s I test).

  5. Neighbor effects from agricultural land conversion and population density changes cause feedback loops as they affect each other simultaneously. To estimate an agricultural land conversion value, neighbor effects are calculated on one level only.


  • Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. (2014). ISO 19131 AAFC Annual Crop Inventory – Data Product Specifications.

  • Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (2002). Resource planning group. Loss and Fragmentation of Farmland.

  • Alberta Soil Information Centre. (2001). AGRASID 3.0: Agricultural Region of Alberta Soil Inventory Database. Edited by Brierley, J.A., Martin, T.C., & Spiess, D.J. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Branch; Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Conservation and Development Branch.

  • Alberta Treasury Board and Finance. (2012). Alberta Population Projections.

  • Anselin, L. (1988). Spatial econometrics: methods and models (Vol. 4) Netherlands: Springer.

  • Anselin, L., & Bera, A. K. (1998). Spatial dependence in linear regression models with an introduction to spatial econometrics. Statistics Textbooks and Monographs, 155, 237–290.

    Google Scholar 

  • Axisa, J. J., Newbold, K. B., & Scott, D. M. (2012). Migration, urban growth and commuting distance in Toronto’s commuter shed. Area, 44(3), 344–355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baumann, M., Kuemmerle, T., Elbakidze, M., Ozdogan, M. V., Radeloff, C., Keuler, N. S., & Hostert, P. (2011). Patterns and drivers of post-socialist farmland abandonment in Western Ukraine. Land Use Policy, 28(3), 552–562.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bengston, D. N., Fletcher, J. O., & Nelson, K. C. (2004). Public policies for managing urban growth and protecting open space: policy instruments and lessons learned in the United States. Landscape and Urban Planning, 69(2), 271–286.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brady, M., & Irwin, E. G. (2011). Accounting for spatial effects in economic models of land use: recent developments and challenges ahead. Environmental and Resource Economics, 48(3), 487–509.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Capital Region Board. (2009). Growing Forward, The Capital Region Growth Plan. Edmonton, Alberta.

  • Capozza, D. R., & Helsley, R. W. (1989). The fundamentals of land prices and urban growth. Journal of Urban Economics, 306, 295–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carrion-Flores, C., & Irwin, E. G. (2004). Determinants of residential land-use conversion and sprawl at the rural-urban fringe. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 86(4), 889–904.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cathcart, J. (2013). A Balancing Act – the policy approach to fragmentation and conversion of agricultural land. Presentation to Mackenzie County Council. Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. Edmonton. May 7, 2013. %20Policy.pdf (accessed June 5, 2014).

  • Cervero, R., & Murakami, J. (2010). Effects of built environments on vehicle miles traveled: evidence from 370 US urbanized areas. Environment and Planning A, 42(2), 400–418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crecente, R., Alvarez, C., & Fra, U. (2002). Economic, social, and environmental impact of land consolidation in Galicia. Land Use Policy, 19(2), 135–147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Edmonton Sustainable Development Department. (2014). Development Incentive Program Policy. Edmonton, Alberta.

  • Drummond, M. A., Auch, R. F., Karstensen, K. A., Sayler, K. L., Taylor, J. L., & Loveland, T. R. (2012). Land change variability and human–environment dynamics in the United States great plains. Land Use Policy, 29(3), 710–723.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fernandes, M., Patman, D., & Vanderputten, R. (2009). Transit oriented development from both sides of the tracks: How the City is Promoting It and How Developers are Building It. 2009 Annual Conference of the Transportation Association of Canada Vancouver, British Columbia.

  • Fleischer, A., & Tsur, Y. (2009). The amenity value of agricultural landscape and rural-urban land allocation. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 60(1), 132–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Francis, C. A., Hansen, T. E., Fox, A. A., Hesje, P. J., Nelson, H. E., Lawseth, A. E., & English, A. (2012). Farmland conversion to non-agricultural uses in the US and Canada: current impacts and concerns for the future. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 10(1), 8–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Government of Alberta. (2000). Municipal Government Act. Public law No. Chapter M-26 (2000). Canada.

  • Government of Alberta. (2009). Alberta Land Stewardship Act. Public law No. Chapter A-26.8 (2009). Canada.

  • Heimlich, R.E., & Anderson, W.D. (2001). Development at the Urban fringe and Beyond: Impacts on Agriculture and Rural Land. Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Economic Report No. 803. Washington D.C.

  • Irwin, E. G., & Bockstael, N. E. (2007). The evolution of urban sprawl: evidence of spatial heterogeneity and increasing land fragmentation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(52), 20672–20677.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Irwin, E. G., & Geoghegan, J. (2001). Theory, data, and methods: developing spatially explicit economic models of land use change. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 85(1), 7–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Irwin, E. G., Bell, K. P., & Geoghegan, J. (2003). Modeling and managing urban growth at the rural-urban fringe : a parcel-level model of residential land use change. Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, 32(1), 83–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jat, M. K., Garg, P. K., & Khare, D. (2008). Monitoring and modelling of urban sprawl using remote sensing and GIS techniques. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 10(1), 26–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lambin, E. F., Geist, H. J., & Lepers, E. (2003). Dynamics of land-use and land-cover change in tropical regions. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 28(1), 205–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lambin, E. F., Turner, B. L., Geist, H. J., Agbola, S. B., Angelsen, A., Bruce, J. W., & Xu, J. (2001). The causes of land-use and land-cover change: moving beyond the myths. Global Environmental Change, 11(4), 261–269.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Li, M., Wu, J., & Deng, X. (2013). Identifying drivers of land use change in China: a spatial multinomial logit model analysis. Land Economics, 89(4), 632–654.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDonald, J. F. (1989). Econometric studies of urban population density: a survey. Journal of Urban Economics, 26(3), 361–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nickerson, C. (2001). Smart growth: implications for agriculture in urban fringe areas. Agricultural Outlook, 24(7), 1–5.

    Google Scholar 

  • Partridge, M., Bollman, R. D., Olfert, M. R., & Alasia, A. (2007). Riding the wave of urban growth in the countryside: spread, backwash, or stagnation? Land Economics, 83(2), 128–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pfaff, A. (1999). What drives deforestation in the Brazilian amazon? Evidence from satellite and socio-economic data. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 37, 26–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pisarski, A. E. (2006). Commuting in America iii: the third national report on commuting patterns and trends. Washington, DC: Transportation research board.

    Google Scholar 

  • Plantinga, A. J., & Miller, D. J. (2001). Agricultural land values and the value of rights to future land development. Land Economics, 77(February), 56–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rahman, A., Aggarwal, S. P., Netzband, M., & Fazal, S. (2011). Monitoring urban sprawl using remote sensing and GIS techniques of a fast growing. Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, 4(1), 56–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Segerson, K., Plantinga, A. J., & Irwin, E. G. (2006). Theoretical background: economics of rural land-Use change. 79–112. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company.

    Google Scholar 

  • Seto, K. C., & Kaufmann, R. K. (2003). Modeling the drivers of urban land use change in the pearl river delta, China : integrating remote sensing with socioeconomic data. Land Economics, 79(1), 106–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shalaby, A. A., Ali, R. R., & Gad, A. (2012). Urban sprawl impact assessment on the agricultural land in Egypt using remote sensing and GIS: a case study, qalubiya governorate. Journal of Land Use Science, 7(3), 261–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shi, Y. J., Phipps, T. T., & Colyer, D. (1997). Agricultural land values under urbanizing influences. Land Economics, 73(1), 90–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Statistics Canada. (2011). Population and dwelling counts, for Canada, provinces and territories, and census subdivisions (municipalities), 2011 and 2006 censuses.

  • Taylor, Z., Burchfield, M., & Kramer, A. (2014). Alberta cities at the crossroads: urban development challenges and opportunities in historical and comparitive perspective. The School of Public Policy Research Papers: University of Calgary, 7(12).

  • von Thünen, J. H. (1966). Isolated state. Editor P. Hall. Oxford, United Kingdom: Permagon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Verburg, P. H., Schot, P. P., Dijst, M. J., & Veldkamp, A. (2004). Land use change modelling: current practice and research priorities. GeoJournal, 61(4), 309–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Young, J. E., Sánchez-Azofeifa, G. A., Hannon, S. J., & Chapman, R. (2006). Trends in land cover change and isolation of protected areas at the interface of the southern boreal mixedwood and aspen parkland in Alberta, Canada. Forest Ecology and Management, 230, 151–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by the Alberta Land Institute.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Feng Qiu.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Haarsma, D., Qiu, F. Assessing Neighbor and Population Growth Influences on Agricultural Land Conversion. Appl. Spatial Analysis 10, 21–41 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Agricultural land conversion; population growth
  • Spatial regression model
  • Spillover effects
  • Alberta-Canada.