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Google Earth Exercise: Chapter 10

Agricultural Geography: Searching for Von Thünen's Model

The Von Thünen model of agricultural function and land use is well-described in your textbook. The intensity of agricultural activity diminishes with increasing distance from the idealized market centre. We will use the example of Uruguay to examine the applicability of the model.

The task: Using Google Earth, visit several farming sites in Uruguay. Calculate distance to the capital, Montevideo, and examine the physical characteristics of the farms.

Step 1: Disable all layers in Google Earth, except for “Borders and Labels.” Load the chapter10.kmz file. Several site markers are provided. At each site, use the ruler tool to measure the average plot size and distance to the nearest farm house as well as the distance to Montevideo. If we assume that agricultural intensity is inversely proportional to plot size and farm size (as determined by distance to nearest farm) we can examine Von Thünen’s theory in practice.

Step 2: Visit the three markers denoting market gardening activities. Visit the two markers denoting dairying activities. Visit the grain production area.

Question 1: What is the approximate size of a cropping plot at these sites? How far are they, on average, from Montevideo and from neighbouring farms? How does this relate to Von Thünen's model?

Question 2: In other countries many dairy operations are moving to an industrial feedlot model in which the feed is purchased, not grown. Is this evident in Uruguay?

Question 3: What are some characteristics that differentiate the commercial grain farming operations from the previous land uses?

Step 3: Double click on the “From Grain Production to Market Gardening” tour.

Question 4: What broad patterns do you observe as you near the capital city in terms of plot size and land use?

When you have answered the four questions above, scroll to the bottom of the page to check your answers.


Question 1: Market gardening plots tend to be about 100 metres square or approximately one hectare in size. The place markers average about 15 km from the city centre. These farms tend to be less than 500 m from neighbouring farms, and in some cases significantly less. This indicates intensive land use and high land rents. As is typical of farms located in close proximity to market, these small facilities produce diverse high-value crops for immediate consumption.

The dairying operations are much further from the capital, where land is abundant. They tend to be 1000–1500 m away from other operations and require abundant land for growing feed. Similarly, plot sizes are in the 10–15 ha range and the dairy farming territory is about 50–100 km from the capital.

Question 2: The Uruguay farms depicted here continue to grow their own grain as evidenced by the large fields surrounding the farms and grain silos.

Question 3: Grain farming is reliant on larger plot sizes, capital intensive infrastructure like grain silos, and proximity to water.

Question 4: Plot size diminishes substantially as one approaches the capital, Montevideo. Eventually, agricultural land uses are displaced by urbanization.