Abstract Explanations of agricultural change near cities appear to emphasise only a subset of the forces influencing agriculture. In this article, a broader set of forces is introduced, and categorised into urbanisation forces, non-urbanisation forces and regional environment influences. Recognition of this range of forces is important in developing strategies for agricultural land conservation and landscape conservation involving farming landscapes. Furthermore, not all urbanisation forces have negative impacts on agriculture, and some stressful influences even have positive impacts from the agricultural productivity perspective. By way of synthesis, a 3-fold classification of the evolving farming landscapes near cities is suggested, based on various combinations of the underlying formative forces and the resultant agricultural responses, viz. landscapes of: (1) agricultural development; (2) agricultural adaptation; (3) agricultural degeneration. These landscapes are discussed from the perspective of agricultural land conservation and landscape conservation. In conclusion, three challenges are noted for agricultural land-use planning and management. First, how can existing landscapes of agricultural degeneration be upgraded and how can their future development be limited? Second, how can agricultural land and landscape conservation be reconciled? Finally, the limitations faced by agricultural land-use planning and management near cities because of the macro-scale national and international forces that agriculture continues to respond to must be acknowledged.