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We assessed consumption of high-quality farmland (HQF) by urbanization in Beijing.
HQF fraction of land urbanized was 1.10–2.21 times its fraction of total farmland.
Annulus-like expansion around urban centers claimed more HQF than scattered growth.
Topography and distances to urban areas and rivers determined HQF loss.
China faces the challenge of using limited farmland to feed more than 1.3 billion people. Accelerated urbanization has exacerbated this challenge by consuming a large quantity of high-quality farmland (HQF). It is therefore essential to assess the degree to which urban expansion has preferentially consumed HQF, and discern the mechanism behind this. We found urban areas in Beijing to expand at speeds of 48.97 km2/year, 21.89 km2/year, 62.30 km2/year and 20.32 km2/year during the periods 1986–1995, 1995–2000, 2000–2005 and 2005–2020, respectively. We developed an indicator of HQF consumption due to urban expansion, representing the ratio of HQF consumed to its proportion of overall farmland, and found its values were 2.21, 1.57, 1.99 and 1.10 for 1986–1995, 1995–2000, 2000–2005 and 2005–2020, respectively. Thus, although HQF has been overrepresented in the farmland consumed by Beijing's urbanization, this phenomenon has decreased over time. Centralized expansion has contributed greatly to consumption of HQF. Topography and distances to urban and water bodies determine the relative consumption of HQF in urbanization.
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