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Farming in the Non-Black Earth zone (Russia)

Non Black Earth, or taiga-forest zone.

Table. Scheme of historical development of farming systems and their features[1] Basics of agricultural production technology. Farming and plant growing. Edited by V.S. Niklyaev. - Moscow: "Bylina", 2000. - 555 p. [2]Farming. Textbook for universities / G.I. Bazdyrev, V.G. Loshakov, A.I. Puponin et al. - M.: Publishing house "Kolos", 2000. - 551 p.

Types and kinds of farming systemsThe way the land is usedMethod of soil fertility reproduction
1. Primitive - slash-and-burn, forest-field, old-fallow, swiddenA smaller proportion of arable land is used. Crops are dominated by cerealsNatural processes without human involvement
2. Extensive - fallow, multi-field grassHalf or more of the arable land is under crops. Cereals and perennial grasses prevail in the cropping pattern. A significant area is occupied by bare fallowsHuman-directed natural processes
3. Transitional - improved grains, grass-fieldThe arable land is in cultivation. Crops are dominated by cereals, combined with perennial grasses or row crops and bare fallowIncreased human impact using natural factors
4. Intensive - cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) crop rotation, industrial-plantingAlmost all arable land is occupied by crops. The sown area often exceeds the arable area. Row crops have been introduced.Active influence of human beings by means supplied by industry

Natural and climatic conditions


The climate of the Non-Black Earth zone of Russia is moderately continental, with increasing continentality from west to east. Average annual precipitation decreases from excessive in the northwest to insufficient in the east and southeast.In western areas 700-750 mm (l/m2) of precipitation falls during the year, the sum of active temperatures (active temperature is the maximum temperature during the day, if it was higher than 10 °C) during the growing season reaches 2000-2200 °C, the duration of the growing season is 140 days. In eastern areas of the zone the amount of precipitation during the year – up to 400-500 mm, the sum of active temperatures – up to 1400-1500 °C, the duration of the growing season – 100 days.

The amount of precipitation varies greatly from year to year and during the year. Deviations from the average annual norm in some years reach 50-60%. They are often too little in the first half of summer, i.e. in the most responsible phases of plant growth, and too much in the second half, i.e. during harvesting. There are droughts in the eastern, southeastern and southern regions. For this reason, the system of agrotechnical measures should include methods to provide crops with moisture in critical periods of development and to combat excessive moisture in the second half of summer, in the western and northwestern regions – in spring and summer.

A large amount of precipitation in winter, causes large water reserves in spring during thawing. Therefore, anti-erosion measures against water erosion are necessarily taken into account.

High snow cover, often more than 20 cm, reliably protects winter crops from frost.The average soil temperature minimum at the depth of the tillering node of cereals in most areas is -5 … -8 ° C, that is close to the optimum value.


The soils of the Non Black Earth zone are diverse. Sod-podzol soils of different degrees of podzolization and thickness of sod layer prevail. In the north and north-west of the taiga-forest zone, bog, podzolic-bog, podzolic-gleyey, peaty-gleyey and meadow soils are common. In the south – gray and dark gray forest soils. In the floodplains – floodplain alluvial soils.

Sod-podzolic soils contain 0,8-2% humus, pH 4,0-5,5, saturation with bases – up to 80%, poor in nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium. Biological activity of uncultivated sod-podzol soils is low. Significant areas of natural forage lands and arable land in the northwestern and northeastern regions are littered with stones.

The humus content in gray forest soils is from 2 to 4%, less podzolized than sod-podzolic soils.

Soils of the Non-Black Earth zone by granulometric composition are represented by loam, sandy loam and sandy soils. That determines the methods of basic tillage and cultivation technologies of crops.Often the depth of the arable layer is 18-20 cm and needs improvement of the state of cultivation.


The taiga-forest zone is characterized by heterogeneous relief. In the north, west and center of the zone it is relatively calm, in the south and southeast it is more dissected and erosion dangerous. High terrain fragmentation leads to high runoff of melt and storm water up to 700-1000 m3/ha, washout up to 25-50 t/ha and soil erosion, accelerated gully formation, field drainage and drying, fertility reduction and yield shortfall.

A big disadvantage of land use of farms in this zone, especially in the north and north-west, is the shallow contour of lands, which complicates the mechanization of field work.


The taiga-forest zone of Russia is characterized by high to 70-90% afforestation, especially in the northern and northeastern regions, which helps protect the soil from water and wind erosion.

A variety of herbaceous vegetation is represented by legumes, cereals, motley grasses, well adapted to local growing conditions, contributes to soil fertility.

Tasks of the farming system

Natural and economic conditions allow for highly developed intensive farming in the taiga-forest zone of the European part of Russia, which is proved by consistently high yields obtained in the Moscow and Leningrad regions, for example, cereals to 3-6 t/ha, potatoes to 20-30 t/ha, vegetables to 30-40 t/ha, silage to 40-50 t/ha, perennial grasses to 5-6 t/ha of hay.

Main crops cultivated: winter crops (wheat, rye), spring crops (barley, oats, wheat), leguminous crops (peas, lupine, etc.), fodder crops (perennial grasses, vetch and pea-oat mixtures, corn for silage, root crops, etc.), potatoes, hemp, vegetables, in the southern part – fruit growing. The main production of fiber flax is concentrated in the taiga-forest zone.

In animal husbandry, the main areas of specialization of enterprises in the Non-Black Earth zone are intensive dairy and meat and poultry farming. 

The main objectives of the farming system for the taiga-forest zone:

  • ensuring rational and effective use of lands on the basis of reasonable land management, organization of the territory, optimal structure of sown areas, introduction of appropriate crop rotations, selection of productive for these soil and climatic conditions crops, varieties, hybrids and use of progressive cultivation technologies;
  • creation of conditions for stable receipt of planned harvests of crops with high quality of production, provision of maximum productivity of each hectare of land with the least expenditures of labor and energy per unit of production;
  • ensuring expanded reproduction of soil fertility through intensive improvement of the state of cultivation, elimination of excessive acidity, use of organic and mineral fertilizers, creation of optimal physical and chemical properties of the arable horizon, prevention of water erosion, prevention of excessive compaction, control of weeds, plant pathogens and pests;
  • introducing reclaimed land through development of intensive crop rotations with planting of the most productive crops and use of programmed cropping methods;
  • increasing the productivity of natural forage lands through the use of fertilizers, reclamation, radical and surface improvement, seeding of perennial grasses;
  • exclusion of deterioration of natural landscapes, pollution of soil and water sources with agrochemicals.

The main task of farming system and all its parts is improvement and increase of soil fertility, natural fertility and state of cultivation of which are rather low in this zone.

Organization of land use territory of enterprises in this zone in most cases is contour or contour-meliorative, on flat and drained lands – rectangular.

Crop rotations system

Crop rotations systems in the Non-Black Earth zone of Russia, as a rule, have grain specialization up to 70% of cereals in the structure of sown areas. Spring cereals give high yields after winter rye, going on bare and seeded fallows. Wheat crops are combined with oats, a sanitary crop in the rotation.

With the dairy specialization of farms with developed potato production the following crop rotations are recommended:

  • 1 – spring cereals + perennial grasses (clover with timothy), 2 – perennial grasses, 3 – potatoes, 4 – silage, 5 – potatoes, 6 – silage and root crops;
  • 1 – annual grasses + perennial grasses, 2-5 – perennial grasses, 6 – winter cereals for green fodder + silage, 6-7 – silage.

The area of potato planting in the rotation can be increased up to 30-40% if higher doses of fertilizers, especially organic ones, are applied. Potatoes prefer light soils after winter rye, lupine, pelushka (Pisum sativum), buckwheat and stubble crops.

With vegetable specialization of farms recommend the following vegetable crop rotations:

  • 1 – annual fodder crops, 2 – carrots, 3 – cabbage, 4 – table beets and fodder root crops, 5 – potatoes, 6 – cabbage (clubroot-resistant varieties; vegetable crops in the rotation 50-60%);
  • 1 – annual forage crops, 2 – cabbage, 3 – carrots, 4 – cabbage (clubroot-resistant varieties), 5 – table beet and fodder root crops (vegetable crops in the rotation are 70%).

In intensive field flax crop rotations flax is placed after or one year after perennial grasses as well as on row crops or winter cereals in order to prevent flax fatigue. Flax accounts for up to 14% of arable land in crop rotations. When using Fusarium-resistant varieties and means of chemical protection, its specific weight in the rotation can be increased.

Due to the livestock direction of agriculture in the zone, fodder crop rotations are widespread. It is recommended to have two main types of fodder crop rotations at the enterprise: on-farm and grass-row, on hayfields and pastures – hay-and-pasture.

On-farm crop rotations are dominated by low-transportable crops, sometimes potatoes, with extensive use of intermediate crops such as fodder cabbage and rutabaga, turnip, rapeseed, oil radish, winter rye for green fodder, and annual grasses. Productivity of on-farm crop rotations reaches up to 8.5 t/ha fodder unit.

Inclusion of perennial grasses in on-farm crop rotations makes them grass-row. Row crops are sown after perennial grasses. For example, the following fodder crop rotations are recommended in the Moscow region:

  • 1 – annual grasses + perennial legumes or legume-grasses, 2-4 – perennial grasses, 5 – silage crops;
  • 1 – annual grasses + perennial legumes or legume-grasses, 2-4 – perennial grasses, 5 – winter cereals + crop residues, 6 – root crops;
  • 1 – vetch-oat mixture with undersowing of perennial grasses (clover + alfalfa + awnless bromegrass), 2-4 – perennial grasses, 5 – silage and root crops;
  • 1 – forage-grass mixture with undersowing of perennial grasses, 2-4 – perennial grasses, 5 – winter crops for green fodder (post-mowing fodder), 6 – silage and root crops.

Approximate scheme of hay and pasture crop rotation: 4-6 years – perennial grasses, 1-2 years – annual forage crops. The advantages of such crop rotations are high soil-protecting qualities and the yield of fodder units from 1 ha reaches 7-7,5 thousand.

A number of enterprises in the Non-Black Earth zone use various combined vegetable and fodder, grain-fodder and other crop rotations.

Tillage system

The main requirements for the system of tillage in the taiga-forest zone:

  • accelerated improvement of the state of soil cultivation;
  • prevention of development and spreading of negative soil processes, such as erosion, acidity increase, deterioration of water, nutrient and air regimes, excessive compaction, weediness;
  • creation of conditions for expanded reproduction of soil fertility;
  • growth of plant productivity through the formation of optimal agrophysical, agrochemical properties and effective use of fertilizers.

Methods of tillage system should take into account local features, such as soil type, erosion risk, topography, weather conditions, cropping patterns and cultivation technology, fertilizer system, weediness, presence of disease and pest agents.

Fertilizer system

Fertilizer system is built for each crop rotation based on agrochemical study of fields (plots), requirements of crops, intensity of technologies, take into account the type of soil and its properties.

Most soils of the Non-Black Earth zone of Russia contain a small amount of humus, which determines their low microbiological activity, poor physical properties and nutrient regime. Sod-podzolic, podzolic and sod-gley soils are poor primarily in nitrogen and phosphorus, but also in calcium, potassium, magnesium, etc. Sandy and sandy loam soils contain even less organic and mineral nutrients than heavy soils.

Soils of the Non-Black Earth zone are characterized by high acidity, the presence of mobile aluminum in the plowing and subsoil layers, which negatively affects the development and yield of the sown crops, the effectiveness of mineral fertilizers. Liming is used to neutralize excessive acidity.

Liming is carried out in full doses in areas with strongly and moderately acidic soils. On slightly acidic soils, systematic supporting liming which compensates the natural loss of carbonates is carried out, not allowing a big gap in time between liming. In areas where the area of acidic soils account for 30-60% of the total arable area, along with supporting liming carry out intensive liming of highly acidic soils.

The effectiveness of liming is determined by the right choice of its place in the crop rotation, timing and other technological conditions. In field and forage crop rotations lime is optimal to make under the cover crops. In specialized potato crop rotations lime is introduced immediately before planting potatoes with simultaneous application of double doses of potassium.

To ensure a positive balance of humus on sod-podzolic soils, 15 to 20 tons/ha and more of organic fertilizers should be made annually, on sandy soils – up to 30 tons/ha and more.

Litter-free semi-liquid manure of industrial livestock complexes is used for direct application to soil and preparation of composts. Bedding-free chicken manure should be composted with straw, peat, crop residues or soil.

Liquid organic fertilizer is used when irrigating crops in fodder crop rotations, located near livestock complexes.

It should be borne in mind that mineral fertilizers change the agrochemical properties of soil, such as the reaction of the soil solution, exchange and potential acidity, the composition of the absorbed bases, which has a significant impact on the living conditions of plants and soil microorganisms.

Especially dangerous is the excess of nitrate forms of nitrogen, dramatically worsening the quality of vegetables, potatoes, fodder, up to the poisoning of people and animals.

The need for fertilizers is determined for each field of the crop rotation, taking into account the data of agrochemical survey, the requirements of cultivated crops, the granulometric composition of the soil, type and form of fertilizers, methods and timing of application, the depth of embedding.

Areas of the Non-Black Earth zone of Russia


The soils of the northwestern area of the Non-Black Earth zone are characterized by low fertility, excessive moisture and a tendency to waterlogging. Under conditions of lack of heat and poor soil aeration, it is necessary to carry out agro-ameliorative measures to eliminate excessive moisture, improve aeration and thermal regime.

To eliminate excessive moisture, narrow-paddock plowing, creation of ridged and ridge-shaped surfaces, deep chiseling, and slitting are used.

Deep loosening is one of the methods to improve water and air regimes of lower soil layers.

In conditions of risk of water erosion, plowing across the slope, deep loosening, slitting, and holling are used.


A significant part of the sod-podzolic soils of the northeast of the Non-Black Earth zone is formed on topsoil loams, more saturated with bases and underlain by porous carbonate rocks. Their state of cultivation is low.

The most effective methods of basic cultivation of sod-podzolic soils with poor state of cultivation and with high acidity is plowing with ploughs with soil-deepeners and ploughs with notched bodies. Efficiency of subsoil loosening increases at low thickness of arable layer and poor state of soil cultivation. Mineral fertilizers and lime are used to increase fertility on sod-podzolic soils with poor state of cultivation.

With deep enough cultivation of arable layer, systematic use of organic and mineral fertilizers and lime allows you to alternate in the rotation methods of mouldboard, non-moldboard, deep and surface tillages.

To combat water erosion, plowing across the slope, deep loosening, slitting and holling are used.


The central area of the Non-Black Earth zone of Russia has a longer warm period, the proportion of soils with a good state of cultivation is higher than in the northwestern region. Therefore, farming is more intensive with a wide range of cultivated crops, crop rotations and applied technologies.

The system of main tillage in the central area provides for regular turning of the arable layer. Along with plowing to a depth of 20-22 cm for cereals and 25-27 cm for row crops, the system of tillage in crop rotations is complemented by surface and deep loosening (chiseling).

After harvesting cereals and flax perform autumn tillage, which includes postharvest stubble loosening (discking) and the subsequent 2-3 weeks later plowing plow with skimmers to a depth of the arable layer with deepening.

On fields clean of weeds after row crops plowing is replaced by surface tillage for winter rye and wheat, vetch-oat and pea-oat mixtures.

On light sandy loamy and sandy soils is promising use of non-moldboard tillage techniques, contributing to protection of soils from wind erosion, accumulation of organic and mineral substances.

For the central area the most effective early autumn tillage, which depending on the objectives and conditions can be supplemented by subsequent cultivation, dicking, creating water retention devices, loosening, furrowing, slitting, etc.


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.