Von Thunen was a German geographer who devised a model to explain the location of various forms of land use. In particular, his model was devised after observing land use around cities in Germany in 1826.
His theory of Economic Rent stated that use of land would be decided by the interplay between transport costs (price of getting goods to market) and the economic rent (money that land is worth) that the land commands.
The closer to the central place, the more expensive the economic Rent, but the cheaper the transport costs. In this case the farmer would use the land in a very intensive manner to make as much profit as possible. If the farmer were to buy land with cheaper economic rent further from the city, then using it for market gardening would be cost inhibitive. Not only would this land require many costly inputs such as labour and fertiliser, it would also have high transport costs as market garden produce needs to be at the market regularly to sell.
The furthest land from the city would be much cheaper with a low Economic Rent because of its distance from the market. The transport costs, however, would be high also. In this particular situation an extensive land use such as livestock would be the best as it only needs a few visits to the market.
Although the model makes sense and is useful in deducing generalised land use patterns, it has been criticised for the assumptions it is based on.
Firstly, Von Thunen based his model on pre industrial Germany – where roads, trains and heavy and light industry did not exist. This type of cultural landscape hasn’t existed in many developed nations for centuries thus reducing its usefulness in a modern context
It assumes that an area has only one major central place in a uniform physical environment (flat, uniform soil and climate as well as no rivers or mountains) The variety of physical environments that exist in actuality have a huge influence on location of land use. Added to this assumption is that the central place is isolated from other areas due to wilderness. This assumption therefore doesn’t take into account the reliance on trade that exists in most modern countries.
The model does not suggest how changing technology would influence the model. It is based on horse and cart technology of 1820’s Germany.
There are many criticisms of Von Thunen’s Theory of Economic Rent (Land Use Location) . Despite this, the nature of a model is that of a starting point and not an answer. By adding one change at a time a Geographer can still use this model to explain theories of how land is used.