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Parcels versus pixels: modeling agricultural land use across broad geographic regions using parcel-based field boundaries

June 28, 2017

Land use and land cover (LULC) change occurs at a local level within contiguous ownership and management units (parcels), yet LULC models primarily use pixel-based spatial frameworks. The few parcel-based models being used overwhelmingly focus on small geographic areas, limiting the ability to assess LULC change impacts at regional to national scales. We developed a modified version of the Forecasting Scenarios of land use change model to project parcel-based agricultural change across a large region in the United States Great Plains. A scenario representing an agricultural biofuel scenario was modeled from 2012 to 2030, using real parcel boundaries based on contiguous ownership and land management units. The resulting LULC projection provides a vastly improved representation of landscape pattern over existing pixel-based models, while simultaneously providing an unprecedented combination of thematic detail and broad geographic extent. The conceptual approach is practical and scalable, with potential use for national-scale projections.