This letter uses satellite remote sensing to examine patterns of cropland expansion, cropland abandonment, and changing cropping frequency in Mato Grosso, Brazil from 2001 to 2011. During this period, Mato Grosso emerged as a globally important center of agricultural production. In 2001, 3.3 million hectares of mechanized agriculture were cultivated in Mato Grosso, of which 500 000 hectares had two commercial crops per growing season (double cropping). By 2011, Mato Grosso had 5.8 million hectares of mechanized agriculture, of which 2.9 million hectares were double cropped. We found these agricultural changes to be selective with respect to land attributes —significant differences (p < 0.001) existed between the land attributes of agriculture versus nonagriculture, single cropping versus double cropping, and expansion versus abandonment. Many of the land attributes (elevation, slope, maximum temperature, minimum temperature, initial soy transport costs, and soil) that were associated with an increased likelihood of expansion were associated with a decreased likelihood of abandonment (p < 0.001). While land similar to agriculture and double cropping in 2001 was much more likely to be developed for agriculture than all other land, new cropland shifted to hotter, drier, lower locations that were more isolated from agricultural infrastructure (p < 0.001). The scarcity of high quality remaining agricultural land available for agricultural expansion in Mato Grosso could be contributing to the slowdown in agricultural expansion observed there over 2006 to 2011. Land use policy analyses should control for land scarcity constraints on agricultural expansion.

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Copyright © 2014, IOP Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in Environmental Research Letters 9:6 (2014), 64010-64022.

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