Ecosystem services provided by agricultural land as modeled by broad scale geospatial analysis

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Agricultural ecosystems provide multiple services including food and fiber provision, nutrient cycling, soil retention and water regulation. Objectives of the study were to identify and quantify a selection of ecosystem services provided by agricultural land, using existing geospatial tools and preferably free and open source data, such as the Virginia Land Use Evaluation System (VALUES), the North Carolina Realistic Yield Expectations (RYE) database, and the land cover datasets NLCD and CDL. Furthermore I sought to model tradeoffs between provisioning and other services. First I assessed the accuracy of agricultural land in NLCD and CDL over a four county area in eastern Virginia using cadastral parcels. I uncovered issues concerning the definition of agricultural land. The area and location of agriculture saw little change in the 19 years studied. Furthermore all datasets have significant errors of omission (11.3 to 95.1%) and commission (0 to 71.3%). Location of agriculture was used with spatial crop yield databases I created and combined with models I adapted to calculate baseline values for plant biomass, nutrient composition and requirements, land suitability for and potential production of biofuels and the economic impact of agriculture for the four counties. The study area was then broadened to cover 97 counties in eastern Virginia and North Carolina, investigating the potential for increased regional grain production through intensification and extensification of agriculture. Predicted yield from geospatial crop models was compared with produced yield from the NASS Survey of Agriculture. Area of most crops in CDL was similar to that in the Survey of Agriculture, but a yield gap is present for most years, partially due to weather, thus indicating potential for yield increase through intensification. Using simple criteria I quantified the potential to extend agriculture in high yield land in other uses and modeled the changes in erosion and runoff should conversion take place. While the quantity of wheat produced though extensification is equal to 4.2 times 2012 production, conversion will lead to large increases in runoff (4.1 to 39.4%) and erosion (6 times). This study advances the state of geospatial tools for quantification of ecosystem services.



GIS, Remote Sensing, Agriculture, CDL, VALUES, RYE, Ecosystem Services