Turkey's land surface totals about 78 million hectares, of which roughly 48 million hectares were being used for some form of agriculture by 1991. There were almost 24.2 million hectares in field crops, of which 5.2 million lay fallow. Another 3.7 million hectares were in use as vineyards, orchards, and olive groves, and 20.2 million hectares were covered by forests and other woodlands. Other land areas accounted for about 29 million hectares; included in this figure was land classified as lakes, marshes, wasteland, and built-up areas. The "other" category also included about 9 million hectares of permanent pastureland.
During the twentieth century, population pressure resulted in the expansion of farmland. The cultivated area increased from about 8 million hectares in the 1920s to nearly 19 million hectares in 1952 and to almost 28 million hectares by 1991. Using Marshall Plan credits that first became available in 1948, Turkey began to import large numbers of tractors, which made it feasible to expand cultivation of marginal lands, especially on the Anatolian Plateau. Although total production grew rapidly, average yields did not. By about 1970, nearly all arable land was under cultivation.
Cultivation increased primarily at the expense of meadows and grasslands, which diminished from about 46 million hectares in the mid-1920s to about 14 million hectares in the mid-1980s. Although cultivation of the larger area made greater agricultural production possible over the short run, it created long-term problems for livestock production. It also resulted in the destruction of tree cover and the plowing of marginal fields that were too steep and that received barely sufficient rainfall even in normal years. By the early 1960s, government agents were encouraging farmers to practice contour plowing and to take other measures to minimize erosion, but to little effect. By the late 1970s, more than half the country's land was judged to have serious erosion problems, and some plains regions were experiencing dust-bowl conditions. All of Turkey was affected, with the mountainous eastern provinces hit hardest. Some areas lost all topsoil and could support few plants.
In the 1970s, the government conducted land-use studies and found that more than one-fifth of the land should have been used differently to achieve optimum long-term production. Misuse was greatest in rain-fed cropped fields, but some grazing land and wasteland were found better suited to other uses such as cropping and forestry. Turkey's unusually high proportion of fallow land also limited production; in 1981 the government began encouraging double cropping and the planting of feed crops on fallow fields. The government also was considering a broad land-use policy. However, reform proved difficult because of government inefficiency and the lack of alternative crops in areas cut off from markets, where farmers had little choice but to use their land to grow grain to feed their families. Expansion of the road network, irrigation facilities, and extension services continued to offer hope for eventual improvements in land use.
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