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Development of the teaching of farming systems in Russia

Farming systems are the result of a long historical development of peoples, originating in the depths of centuries and reflecting the development of culture in certain socio-economic conditions.

“There is no doubt that this or that farming system expresses this or that degree of civil development of peoples.

A.V. Sovetov.

In the farming systems manifest different ways of land use, inherent in a particular historical stage of socio-economic development of the people and society.

“…the culture of the field has always gone hand in hand with the culture of man.”

K.A. Timiryazev

The origins of the teaching of farming systems in Russia

The teaching of farming systems in Russia emerged in the second half of the 18th century, a period characterized by the social division of labor, rapid development of crafts, manufactures, and trade. Along with the justification of the concept of “farming system” as a set of agrotechnical methods aimed at preservation and improvement of soil fertility, the issues and problems were studied and discussed:

  • on the economic efficiency of farming systems under various natural and economic conditions;
  • farming systems and soil-climatic conditions,
  • farming systems and production directions of farms,
  • farming systems and agricultural implements and machinery,
  • farming systems and the social mode of production.

The founders of the teaching of farming systems in Russia were such agronomists of the last third of the 18th century as A.T. Bolotov, I.M. Komov, V.A. Levshin and agricultural practices of the early 19th century – D.M. Poltoratsky, I.I. Samarin.

Under the conditions of the feudal reform of land ownership, serfdom and communal land tenure the fallow arable farming system was prevalent with the then usual three-field cereal crop rotation: 1 – fallow, 2 – winter cereals, 3 – spring cereals. For the vast majority of peasant and landowner farms the fallow system was the only form of farming. The slash-and-burn system of farming was also used in the northern forested provinces, and the old-fallow system in the southern and southeastern regions. In both cases the systems had a grain orientation. Thus, in the fields of Russia at that time undividedly dominated cereal crops.

Vegetable and industrial crops were cultivated only in vegetable gardens or on special plots primarily for consumer purposes. Productive cattle breeding developed in the south and southeast of the European part, but it was based not on agriculture, but on natural meadows and pastures.

Founders of farming systems in Russia

A.T. Bolotov

Numerous works of A.T. Bolotov (1738-1833) are directly related to the teaching of farming systems: “Notes on Grain Farming in General”, “On Fertilizing Lands”, “On Separation of Fields” and others.

A.T. Bolotov was of the opinion that agriculture in both Black Earth and Non-Black Earth zones could be raised by improving the existing fallow system of farming and mastering the new, more perfect at that time, pasture system.

In the first case it was proposed to improve pre-sowing tillage, methods of field fertilization, increase the quality of seeds and their embedding into the soil, improve the existing meadows. In the second case, to radically change agricultural production: to introduce new crop rotations and establish rational proportions between grain farming and cattle breeding.

A.T. Bolotov proposed to switch, where conditions allow, from three-field system to seven-field crop rotations of the pasture system:

  • 1 – winter cereals (wheat and rye), 2 – pasture, 3 – spring crops, 4 – pasture, 5 – spring crops, 6 – pasture, 7 – fallow;
  • 1 – winter cereals, 2,3 – spring crops, 4-6 – pasture, 7 – fallow.

In contrast to the three-field crop rotation of the fallow system, in which 2/3 of the arable land is occupied by cereals and 1/3 by fallow, in the seven-field rotation of the grazing system 3/7 of the arable land is occupied by cereals, 3/7 – by grazing and 1/7 – by fallow. Thus, sown area under cereals decreased from 67 to 43% of all arable land. However, A.T. Bolotov argued that the crops would yield more than before, since the amount of fodder, livestock and manure would increase immeasurably, and the land would be better manured and cultivated.

In order to economically evaluate the proposed system of farming and prove its advantage over the fallow system, he applied a comparative analysis method, which he called “balances.” This is done by comparing two plots of land of the same size and quality, but on which different farming systems are used. For example, on the first plot a three-field crop rotation of the fallow system is applied, and on the second – a seven-field profit system. This approach made it possible for the first time to determine production costs and net income.

I.M. Komov

I.M. Komov (1750-1792), agronomist and economist, considered the most important tasks of farming to be the restoration and maintenance of soil fertility, which could be solved by plowing, fertilizing with manure and cereal-grass-row crop rotation.

In 1785 I.M. Komov published his work “On Farming Implements,” which was republished six years later, and in 1788 his monograph “On Farming” was published.

He divided all plants into two groups: soil-depleting, such as cereals and oil crops, and enriching, such as root crops and grasses. From these positions, he expressed sharp criticism of the fallow system used, noting the impossibility under such a system to develop animal husbandry and sufficiently fertilize the land, which inevitably led to the depletion of natural fertility, falling yields and farm incomes. I.M. Komov proposed to establish a turnover of sowing different plants so as not to exhaust the land and get as much profit from it as possible. This can be achieved by sowing a vegetable, a cereal, and a grass one by one.

I.M. Komov, in contrast to A.T. Bolotov, proposed to move to a more intensive cereal-grass-row system of farming.

“It is better to get much from a little than little from a big.”

I.M. Komov

The rationale for the new system was based on the relationship between grain and cattle farming, cereals and forage crops, paying attention not only to the economic but also to the agro-technical side of the farming system.

I.M. Komov proposed two variants of approximate six-field crop rotations:

  1. For areas where the land is poor or there is a lot of it and few farmers: 1 – spring cereals with grasses, 2 – grasses, 3 – winter cereals, 4 – row crops, 5 – spring cereals with grasses, 6 – grasses.
  2. For areas with few land and many people: 1 – winter cereals, 2 – spring cereals, 3 – row crops, 4 – spring cereals with grasses, 5 – grasses, 6 – spring cereals.

Emphasizing that the proposed crop rotations are only approximate, he pointed out that there are no general and constant rules for all time “in such a diverse and multivariable art” as farming. I.M. Komov advised first to make experiments on small plots of land in order to understand “which grain or vegetable for his land is more suitable, which manure is more useful and at what depth the seeds are sown more reliably”. And only then “begin to sow whole fields.”

A.T. Bolotov and I.M. Komov were guided by the desire to transform Russian agriculture, to make it highly profitable. The way to solve this problem they saw in the introduction of new farming systems, which would not deplete the land, but, on the contrary, increase its fertility. The systems, in their opinion, could be those combining farming with cattle breeding, cereals with forage crops. They considered the observance of the proportions between farming and cattle breeding as the key condition for restoring, maintaining and improving soil fertility, increasing agricultural productivity and profitability of farms. Agronomic and economic efficiency were considered by A.T. Bolotov and I.M. Komov as one whole.

V.A. Levshin, D.M. Poltoratsky, I.I. Samarin

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the increase in crop yields was hampered by the development of cattle breeding, which was the only source of fertilizer at that time, and the development of cattle breeding, in turn, by the lack of fodder. Therefore, Russian agricultural scientists of the time were looking for rational ways to cultivate a variety of forage grasses in the fields of different zones of the country and made numerous experiments.

A great contribution to the solution of this question was made by V.A. Levshin, a member of the Free Economic Society, and D.M. Poltoratsky and I.I. Samarin, agricultural practitioners.

V.A. Levshin paid attention to the study of wild grasses, experimental grass seeding and improvement of the fallow farming system. Among his numerous works devoted to these issues, the following played a great role in the development of domestic agronomy and agricultural practice: “Description of fodder grasses discovered in the Tula province, the convenience of their reproduction by sowing, conversion of some of them for economic use”, “On the Settlement of Steppes”, “On Plants Harmful and Useful to Cattles”.

These works allow to call V.A. Levshin a founder of the theory of grass sowing in Russia and the creator of improved fallow system of farming, which in agricultural literature of the 19th century entered under the name “improved cereal system” and was widely used in the peasant farms of Moscow and Yaroslavl provinces.

V.A. Levshin proposed for the south of Russia crop rotation: 1 – winter crops, 2 – spring crops, 3 – first-year grasses, 4 – second-year grasses.

He understood that the dominant fallow system with cereal three-field farming caused the lack of meadows and pastures, livestock and manure, unable to ensure the restoration and maintenance of soil fertility.

D.M. Poltoratsky, an educated landowner, at about the same time began grass farming on a wide scale for the time. On his Avchurino estate he applied a new system of farming. All the land of the estate, which amounted to 2,700 dessiatinas (2900 ha), was divided into two plots – near and far. The nearer one was allotted for crop rotation: 1 – potatoes, peas, carrots, beans, lentils; 2 – spring wheat, oats, barley; 3 – clover for green fodder and hay; 4 – winter wheat and rye. At the far site seven-field crop rotation was applied: 1-3 – oats, 4 – 1st year clover, 5 – 2nd year clover, 6 – winter crops, 7 – oats. Then the land was allocated for pasture or haying.

Transition to a new cereal-grass-row system of farming allowed to increase the yield of crops, increase the number of livestock on the farm. However, the cereal-grass-row crop rotation, introduced by Poltoratsky, was not widespread in Russia.

Crop rotation of V.A. Levshin, which underwent great changes, eventually became widespread in the farms of the central provinces of the Non-Chernozem zone.

A.D. Thayer, M.G. Pavlov

I.M. Komov’s classic work “On Farming” was published in 21 years, and A.T. Bolotov’s outstanding work “On the Division of Fields” in 37 years, before the first volume of A.D. Thayer’s “Foundations of Rational Agriculture” (1809), who is considered the founder of agricultural science and, particularly, the teaching of farming systems, was published.

A.D. Thayer (1752-1828) founded and directed the Meglina Agricultural Academy, the oldest in Germany. His work “The Foundations of Rational Agriculture” in four volumes represented the most extensive systematized course of lectures on all the main branches of agricultural knowledge.

All existing at that time farming systems were subdivided by A.D. Thayer into fallow-cereal and cereal-grass-row systems. He also referred the pasture system to the fruit-and-vegetable system, which he called “cereal-grass-row farming with pasture”. A.D.Thayer developed, as he considered, the most effective for Germany four-field crop rotation: 1 – potato, 2 – barley, 3 – clover, 4 – winter rye.

In Russia, the teaching of farming systems was developed in the works of M.G. Pavlov: “Farming Chemistry”, “Course of Agriculture” and others. M.G. Pavlov (1793-1848) after graduating from Moscow University in 1816 went on a long trip abroad, where he studied agriculture in Western European countries. For a year he studied under A.D. Thayer in Meglina and for three years he toured the agricultural areas of Germany, Switzerland, France and England.

M.G. Pavlov viewed agricultural production from three perspectives: as a craft, as an art, and as a science.

“The fate of agriculture as a craft is stillness, as a art – blind luck or a series of economic errors, as a science – calculated success.”

M.G. Pavlov

Beginning in 1826, M.G. Pavlov compared different systems of farming in the educational experimental farm of the Moscow School of Agriculture. He concluded that no matter how obvious the advantages of one or another system might seem, its widespread introduction is impossible. None of the existing systems of farming everywhere and always the best and dominant can be, as everything depends on local natural and economic conditions: the soil and climate, the prices for land, for labor, for various agricultural products and farm implements, the cost of transportation, etc. According to M.G. Pavlov, the best farming system is the one, which under given conditions, under given circumstances provides the highest income from a certain space of land without depleting its fertility.

M.G. Pavlov subdivided the systems of farming into three classes: field, or fallow, pasture, and cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing).

Evaluating these systems by their influence on fertility, M.G. Pavlov noted that three-field system depletes fertility. It returns less nutrients to the land than it extracts from it. Pasture system ensures the maintenance of fertility. Cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) system not only maintains, but also increases it. Old-fallow system of farming he attributes to the pasture system.

In the agriculture of Russia at that time the main income came from the cultivation of cereals, and then livestock farming. Cultivation of industrial crops and processing of agricultural products were very poorly developed.

M.G. Pavlov believed that the goal of any farming system was to gain maximum profit, while the agrotechnical aspects of the system, primarily related to the restoration, maintenance and improvement of soil fertility, were relegated to the background.

J.A. Litovsky, S.M. Usov

Professor Y.A. Litovsky (1818-1846) of Moscow University, the successor of M.G. Pavlov in the Department of Agriculture, approached the study of farming systems from the natural-scientific side, taking into account the conditions of soil fertility.

In the understanding of J.A. Litovsky, a farming system is the achievement of the highest profit primarily through the selection of the optimal ratio of crops in a field crop rotation and measures for the restoration and maintenance of fertility.

S.M. Usov (1796-1859) in his work “On Grain Farming Systems” summarized the teaching on farming systems in the pre-reform period. He was the editor of “Zemledelskaya Gazeta” and “The Works of the Free Economic Society”.

All agronomists-economists of the pre-reform period, who contributed to the development of the theory of farming systems in Russia, considered the farming system from the perspective of cultivation of cultivated plants on the fields for profit, that is, they expanded the concept of “farming system”, including not only agrotechnical aspects, but also economic ones.

A.V. Sovetov, A.N. Engelhardt

The teaching of farming systems was developed in the works of A.V. Sovetov and A.N. Engelhardt.

A.V. Sovetov considered farming systems as an issue combining agronomic and economic aspects.

“The question of farming systems is not a strictly agronomical question, it goes into the field of political economy.”

A.V. Sovetov

The main role in any system of farming A.V. Sovetov attributed to land relations, however, over time, this position has changed, along with this changed the systems of farming.

The term “farming system” was first introduced by professor A.V. Sovetov.

“The different forms in which one or another method of farming is expressed are commonly called systems of farming.”

A.V. Sovetov

A.V. Sovetov emphasized that the main form of farming among the Slavic peoples of ancient Russia was the slash-and-burn system, in which to turn the land into a condition suitable for arable farming, resorted to cutting and burning wood, shrubs or turf. The slash-and-burn system of farming prevails in forested areas.

In the southern steppe regions of Russia, the old-fallow system of farming was widespread, in which a plot of land was sown with cereal crops for several years in a row, and after the soil was exhausted, it was turned into a fallow land used as pasture or hayfield. After the depleted land naturally regains its fertility, it is put back into use. In such a system, cultivated land is not fertilized, not grassed, and not rotated.

In the 60’s of XIX century the old-fallow system was widespread in the southern steppe regions of Russia, slash-and-burn – in the north. In the rest of the European part of the country the three-field fallow-cereal system prevailed, which emerged, according to A.V. Sovetov, as a result of plowing the steppe fallow lands and growth of sown areas of cereal crops.

The fallow system, according to A.V. Sovetov, can be applied when the area of meadows is 2 times more than the arable land. Increasing the share of arable land in this system inevitably leads to a reduction of livestock, fertilizer and lower yields.

In addition, the fallow system is exclusively cereal-oriented and incompatible with crops such as clover, beets, sunflowers and others that require other tillage practices, which meant that the farming system had to be improved.

Beet farming in Russia initiated the introduction and mastering of a more intensive crop rotation system, the emergence of new crop rotations and field grassing, the use of more advanced farming implements and the use of fertilizers and more thorough tillage.

A.V. Sovetov considered the cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) farming system as the most productive and progressive in comparison with fallow, while the latter was more productive than the swidden one.

He is credited with summarizing more than half a century of experience in the use of crop rotation system in different countries and describing the evolution of this system. He showed how the forms of fruit-changing crop rotation depending on soil-climatic and socio-economic conditions.

A.V. Sovetov in his work “On cultivation of fodder grasses in the fields” has reviewed in detail the experience of using the cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) system, and especially grass sowing, in Russia.

Field grass sowing in Russia for the first time appeared in the late 18th century, and by the 30s of the 19th century it was already quite widespread. The spread of field grass sowing led to the improvement of crop rotation, which first was four-field, and then five-, six-, seven-field, etc., taking into account local soil and climatic and economic conditions. The range of grasses used also expanded. In addition to red clover, which initially dominated in the crops, timothy, white clover, awnless brome, etc. began to be sown.

However, A.V. Sovetov did not consider the fruit-changing system an absolute truth, and believed that agronomic science and practice needed to move on.

A.N. Engelhardt (1832-1893) in his works “From the Village”, “On Agriculture in Northern Russia and the Application of Phosphorites in It”, and “Chemical Bases of Farming” did not use the term “system of farming”, but used “system of field farming”, “system of economy”. By “system of field farming” he meant a system of farming, whereas by “system of farming” he meant a system that included the production direction of the farm, the system of farming, farming implements, and the social type of farm.

At the Batischevo estate A.N. Engelhardt introduced a 15-field crop rotation, a complete rotation of which took place from 1871 to 1887.

Changes in the system of field farming resulted in changes in the system of cattle breeding. The plowing of heathlands and grassy layer required the improvement of farming tools: replacing the sokha (lightweight horse-drawn wooden soil cultivation implement) and wooden harrows with a plough and iron harrows. 

Engelhardt distinguished between extensive and intensive farming systems.

He considered the main directions of the farming system to be the destruction of wastelands and bringing all the convenient land to a cultivated condition, fertilizing the land with manure, grass sowing and application of artificial fertilizers, flax and dairy-livestock farming directions, improvement of tillage implements.

A.N. Engelhardt proved the interrelation of farming system and production direction. In fallow systems, the direction of farming can only be grain farming, and in pasture systems – dairy-livestock and flax farming.

A.P. Ludogovsky

The teaching of systems of agriculture was laid down by professor A.P. Ludogovsky (1840-1882) of the Petrovsky Academy of Agriculture and Forestry. He did not separate the meanings of the terms “system of mastery” and “system of farming”.

For the first time in agricultural science, A.P. Ludogovsky tried to single out from the farming system its component part – the system of field farming, defining crop rotation as the key concept.

He classified farming systems according to the main features which, in his opinion, express the essence of farming system, its agronomic and economic content. Such attributes include:

  • degree of intensity,
  • the method of restoration of soil fertility,
  • the position of productive livestock farming in the farm,
  • distribution of all the land of the farm between forage and cereal crops.

The method of soil fertility restoration determines the nature of land use and the farming system as a whole. As noted by A.P. Ludogovsky, the history of farming knows four ways to restore fertility: fallow land, fallow field tillage, field grass sowing and fertilization with manure and artificial mixtures.

The development of farming systems, in his opinion, was the result of a natural-historical process, by which he understood “depletion of soil by crops,” and an economic process, to which he assigned a more important role.

A.P. Ludogovsky developed his scheme of historical and geographical development of farming systems, which was based on the data from England and Germany. The scheme reflected technical progress in agriculture. Each successive farming system was technically more advanced in relation to the previous one.

I.A. Stebut

I.A. Stebut was the first in agricultural science to define the concepts of “system of farm (mastery)”, “system of field management”, “crop rotation” and “system of crops” and showed the relationship between them.

“System of farm” – a certain combination of branches involved in the formation of the income of a specialized farm. The main feature of the farm system, according to I.A. Stebut, is the production direction, or market product. Thus, three main farm systems were distinguished:

field-growing, in which the market product was grain;
cattle-breeding, in which the market product was livestock products;
factory, in which the market product was the products of farming, subjected to technical processing.

In the European part of Russia, field farming systems prevailed, and field farming itself, according to I.A. Stebut, is an integral part of all major farming systems, such as cattle breeding, distillery, sugar production, butter production, and starch-and-maltodextrin production.

I.A. Stebut considered the system of field farming as part of the system of farming, which is expressed in crop rotation.

“Only that crop rotation which serves as an expression of the plan of field farming correctly outlined for local conditions as part of that building which represents the whole farm.”

I.A. Stebut

A.S. Ermolov

A.S. Ermolov (1846-1916), the author of “The Organization of Field Farming,” considered maximum profit as the goal of rational farming at all times and with all peoples. The economic and natural conditions of agriculture may change, but the goal of farming remains the same; it is always and everywhere the same – the highest net income. To achieve this goal, A.S. Ermolov believed that following the change of economic and natural conditions the system of farming should be improved.

A farm can be called rational if it is organized strictly according to local conditions, meets all the requirements of the environment and receives a high net income.

A.S. Ermolov understood by the farming system not only the method of restoration and maintenance of fertility, but also the ratio and alternation of crops in crop rotation, the ratio of farmland. Crop rotation, in his opinion, expresses not only the alternation of crops, but also the production direction of the farm.

D.N. Pryanishnikov

D.N. Pryanishnikov (1865-1948) considered crop rotation as an objective necessity and one of the important conditions for increasing crop yields, and the diversity of soil-climatic and economic conditions of the country necessitated the use of various crop rotations and methods of crop growing. He recommended the use of four-field fallow-row and cereal-grass-row crop rotations, the latter, in his opinion, were the most progressive, in which cereals, row crops and forage grasses, mainly legumes, as nitrogen fixers alternate.

Cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) crop rotations seemed to be a means of rapid and simultaneous rise and growth of grain farming, cattle breeding and production of industrial crops.

“If a field of clover is added to a four-field crop rotation, the grain yield is doubled in comparison with a three-field rotation, and with the use of mineral fertilizers on the background of clover – is quadrupled”.

D.N. Pryanishnikov

W.R. Williams

W.R. Williams (1863-1939) defined the system of farming as a complex of agronomic measures aimed at the restoration, maintenance and continuous improvement of fertility. He developed a system of agronomic practices to restore and improve fertility, which he called grass-field farming system, which included rational organization, use of the entire farm land, the system of two crop rotations – field and forage, the system of tillage and crop care, fertilizer system, planting of shelterbelt forests.

According to W.R. Williams, the integral factor of arable fertility is soil structure. It was this statement that caused a number of gross mistakes made during the development and implementation of the grass-field farming system.

W.R. Williams emphasized that inseparability of its four elements is extremely important in grass-field system. Later he added to these four elements the system of seed production, which consists in sowing of selected seeds of high-yielding varieties, adapted to local conditions, and the system of land reclamation, including irrigation land reclamation in the areas of insufficient moisture and drainage – in the areas of excessive moisture.

The progressiveness of the grass-field system can be seen by comparing it with those systems that historically preceded it. It represents practical recommendations aimed at raising arable farming. But the grassland farming system could not solve grain and livestock problems in the USSR.

Widespread introduction of grass-field crop rotations in different regions of the country has shown that they are economically effective for the Non-Black Soil zone and completely ineffective in the steppe arid regions of the European part of the country.

The current state of the teachings of farming systems

Modern farming in socio-economic sense is a highly developed, intensive, sustainable, productive, soil-protective, environmentally sound and economically efficient agricultural production, which provides progressive growth of high-quality products regardless of climatic conditions with rational use of land, resources and expanded reproduction of soil fertility.

Modern systems of farming is a new knowledge-intensive stage of systems development. The main directions of improvement are drought control, soil protection from erosion, environmental safety and protection of the environment from pollution by agrochemicals and mineral fertilizers, creation of favorable conditions for growth and development of crops, labor and human life, achieving maximum economic efficiency.


Farming. Textbook for universities / G.I. Bazdyrev, V.G. Loshakov, A.I. Puponin et al. – Moscow: Publishing House “Kolos”, 2000. – 551 с.

Fundamentals of agricultural production technology. Farming and crop production. Edited by V.S. Niklyaev. – Moscow: Bylina, 2000. – 555 с.