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Farming in the Volga Region

The Volga region is one of the largest agricultural regions of Russia, comprising more than 48 million hectares of agricultural land, of which about 30 million hectares is arable land.

The main branch of crop production is grain farming. It is in the Volga region that the famous strong and durum wheat is grown, whose quality is recognized as the best in the world.

The Volga region can be divided into 4 major soil and climatic subzones:

  • forest-steppe – includes the Ulyanovsk and Penza regions, the northern districts of the Samara region;
  • arid black earth steppe – central and southern districts of Samara and Saratov oblasts (left bank), northern and central districts of Volgograd oblast;
  • dry steppe – southeastern districts of Samara and Saratov oblasts, central and part of southern districts of Volgograd Oblast;
  • semi-desert steppe – Astrakhan oblast (except Akhtuba), south-eastern districts of Saratov oblast, right bank and Volgograd oblast.

Natural and climatic conditions

Climate

The climate of the forest-steppe part of the Volga region is moderate. Average annual precipitation is about 400 mm. The coefficient of moisture availability (according to Selyaninov) is 0.7-0.8. The amount of precipitation during the growing season may vary, but droughts are less frequent than in the steppe part. The amount of precipitation in the second half of the growing season can differ particularly sharply. In general, during the warm period of the year the deficit of precipitation is about 100 mm. The unevenness of soil moisture increases due to the significant dissection of the terrain. Southern slopes suffer from the lack of moisture more.

Arid black earth steppe is characterized by average annual precipitation of 300-350 mm, moisture deficit in warm season can be 200 mm. Depletion of root layer can reach up to 50 cm depth. The frequency of dry years is about 70-75%. Winters, as a rule, have little snow. In summer the air temperature is higher than in the forest-steppe, droughts and dry winds are more frequent. Hydrothermal coefficient varies from 0.5 to 0.7; relative humidity in June-July decreases to 15-20%.

In spring before sowing spring crops the soil is soaked to the full depth of the root layer only in years with sufficient precipitation. Therefore, due to the frequent lack of precipitation in the summer period after the harvesting of most crops, moisture reserves in the meter layer are 20-30 mm. Sufficient moisture reserves are found only on bare fallows.

Dry steppe is characterized by average annual precipitation of 275-350 ml. Moisture deficit only in May-June reaches 250 mm. Moisture availability coefficient does not exceed 0.4-0.5. In autumn and winter precipitation is usually not enough to moisten the entire root layer. Frequent dry winds and periods with relative humidity up to 15-20% are noted. Droughts are repeated on average every 2-3 years, sometimes several years in a row.

The climate in the semi-desert part of the Volga region is sharply arid. The average annual precipitation is 250-300 mm in the north and 180-200 mm in the south. The deficit of moisture during the growing season reaches 350-400 mm. In some years, there may be no precipitation during the summer period. The number of dry years reaches 80-90%.

Already in June natural vegetation burns out, so artificial irrigation becomes very important.

Soils

In the forest-steppe, leached and thick black earth prevail in combination with gray forest and brown sandy soils. Podzols are also found. Leached black soils predominate mainly in the northeast of Penza, Ulyanovsk and Samara regions. Their humus content is from 4 to 9%, the thickness of humus horizon is up to 100 cm. Strong black soils with humus content of 10-12% are common in the south and south-west of the Volga region, with the thickness of the humus horizon up to 110-120 cm.

In arid steppe, common southern black earth, clay and loam soils prevail. In strongly arid steppe – chestnut, light-chestnut, brown, saline soils in combination with solonetz (strong saline) soils. They are characterized by high natural fertility, humus content in arable layer is from 4 to 8%, thickness of humus horizon is 40-80 cm. Solonetz soils in natural conditions are not fertile, for their cultivation different methods of melioration are used.

Dark-chestnut, chestnut, complex soils of different degrees of salinity, granulometric composition and erodibility prevail in the dry steppe. Loamy and heavy loamy varieties are widespread. In arable land, solonetz spots can cover up to 20-25% of the area. Along large rivers (Volga, Don) large areas are occupied by sandy and sandy loam soils, exposed to high risk of wind and water erosion. Chestnut soils contain up to 3-4% of humus, the thickness of humus horizon – 30-40 cm. They are prone to compaction and deterioration of water regime.

Semi-desert steppe is characterized by sharply expressed complexity of soil cover. Chestnut, light-chestnut, brown soils and spots of steppe solonetz soils are widespread. The share of the latter is from 15-20 to 40-50% of the total area of arable land. Humus content in light chestnut and brown soils is 1.5-3%, the thickness of humus layer is 13-25 cm. The natural fertility of saline light chestnut and brown soils is small.

Relief

The territory of the Volga region is characterized by a rugged relief formed under the influence of centuries of activity of the Volga river and its tributaries. The relief of the right bank is more dissected than that of the left bank. According to A.I. Shabaev (1985), in Saratov region more than 80% of agricultural lands are located on slopes; slope lands with steepness of 3-9° prevail in right-bank part, in left-bank – 1-3°. Horizontal disintegration of the territory in the western part of the Right-bank zone is 0,5-0,6 km/km2, in the eastern part – 0,5-0,9 km/km2, in the littoral zone to the Volga – up to 2,5 km/km2. Such characteristic determines soil susceptibility to water and wind erosion.

In Samara region 65,6% of arable lands are situated on slopes 1-3°, 3-5° – 26,3%, 5-10° – about 3%. The partitioning of the territory by hydrographic network is 0.5-0.96 km/km2.

In Volgograd region almost half of the agricultural land areas are located on slopes and are at risk of water and wind erosion. More than 63 thousand ha are under gullies.

Losses of soil from erosion in Volga region are up to 20-25 t/ha, losses of water due to runoff – 200-500 m3/ha, which causes sharp reduction of crop yield, especially in right-bank part. In a number of areas gully formation takes place, which leads to strong drainage and land desiccation.

Vegetation

Due to agricultural development of lands, the vegetation cover has undergone significant changes and has significantly lost its soil-protective properties. The forest cover of the Volga region is low or very low. Grass vegetation is represented by crops of cultivated plants, mainly spring crops. Perennial grasses account for small areas. Natural herbaceous vegetation is represented by mixed-grass-typchak (Festuca valesiaca)-stipa association of medium (forest-steppe) and southern (steppe) types.

The poorest vegetation is in the arid-steppe and semi-desert subzones. White artemisia-matricaria, stipa-festuca valesiaca, fallopia, festuca valesiaca-artemisia, vitex-artemisia, artemisia pauciflora, limonium-fallopia, mixed-grass-festuca valesiaca-elytrigia, atriplex, artemisia, salsola, saltwort, cereals-juncus, artemisia pauciflora-vitex, matricaria-artemisia pauciflora associations are widespread.

Low soil-protective and soil-improving capacity of natural and cultural vegetation requires an appropriate approach in designing the farming system of the Volga region.

The main tasks of the farming system

The leading direction of farming in the Volga region is the production of grain, mainly wheat, groats and vegetable crops. In connection with sufficiently developed livestock farming, fodder production is important.

The main tasks of the farming system in the Volga region:

  • combating drought;
  • obtaining stable annual harvests;
  • soil protection from water and wind erosion;
  • regulation of water regime;
  • fighting against salinization;
  • application of organic and mineral fertilizers;
  • grass seeding;
  • application of progressive methods of tillage aimed at improving soil fertility;
  • increasing the efficiency of bare fallow and irrigated land;
  • protection of crops from weeds, pathogens and pests.

The main task of the farming system for the majority of the Volga region is measures to maximize accumulation and preservation of soil moisture throughout the year in each field of crop rotation. Agrocomplex on moisture accumulation and soil protection from erosion is developed for the whole crop rotation, taking into account biological features of crops and moisture-saving technologies.

Crop rotations system

The following crop rotations are used in the Volga region:

  • cereals-fallow-row:
    • 6-field: 1 – bare or seeded fallow, 2 – winter crops, 3 – sugar beet, 4 – spring wheat, 5 – millet, 6 – barley;
    • 7-field: 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter wheat, 3 – spring wheat or millet, 4 – leguminous crops, 5 – winter rye or spring wheat, 6 – barley, oats, 7 – sunflower;
    • 8-field: 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter crops, 3 – sugar beet, 4 – millet or barley, 5 – leguminous, 6 – winter or spring wheat, 7 – barley, oats, 8 – sunflower
  • cereals-fallow:
    • 6-field: 1 – leguminous, 2 – winter or spring wheat, 3 – barley or millet, 4 – spring wheat, 5 – corn, 6 – barley;
    • 8-fields: 1 – leguminous, 2 – winter or spring wheat, 3 – barley or millet, 4 – spring wheat, 5 – maize, 6 – winter or spring wheat, 7 – barley or oats, 8 – sunflower.

Taking into account specialization of farms and soil and climate conditions in the central Right Bank the following field crop rotations are recommended:

  • 6-field: 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter crops, 3 – spring wheat, 4 – corn, 5 – spring wheat, 6 – barley;
  • 7-field: 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter crops, 3 – millet or barley, 4 – leguminous, 5 – winter or spring wheat, 6 – barley, 7 – sunflower or 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter crops, 3 – spring wheat, 4 – millet, 5 – spring wheat, 6 – corn, 7 – barley;
  • 8-field: 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter crops, 3 – spring wheat, millet, 4 – corn, 5 – barley, 6 – leguminous, 7 – winter or spring wheat, 8 – sunflower;
  • 9-field: 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter crops, 3 – spring wheat, millet, 4 – leguminous, 5 – winter or spring wheat, 6 – barley, 7 – corn, 8 – oats, 9 – sunflowers.

When moving to the south and southeast the aridity of climate increases, so the specific weight of pure fallows in cereal-fallow crop rotations increases. Typical scheme of cereal-fallow crop rotations for the south-eastern part of the Volga region: 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter or spring wheat, 3 – spring wheat, 4 – millet, 5 – barley, 6 – mustard.

In the most arid regions of the Volga region, where rainfall is 200-250 mm, cereal-fallow crop rotations with a short rotation are used: 

  • 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter wheat, 3 – millet or barley;
  • 1 – bare fallow, 2 – winter wheat, 3 – spring wheat or millet, 4 – barley.

In areas located near large administrative centers, due to the development of dairy cattle farms and farms with vegetable and potato specialization, the share of fodder and vegetable crops in crop rotations increases. Special vegetable, vegetable-potato and vegetable-fodder crop rotations with irrigation are also used here.

Tillage system

Taking into account soil and climatic features of the Volga region, the following requirements are imposed on the tillage system:

  • ensuring maximum accumulation and preservation of moisture;
  • prevention of water and wind erosion;
  • clearing fields of weeds, destruction of pests and pathogens;
  • creation of optimal conditions for plant growth and development;
  • obtaining high and stable yields.

Despite the great diversity of soil and climatic conditions of the Volga region, this zone is characterized by stable weather conditions. Therefore, the tillage system should match the local soil and climatic, weather conditions, soil type, topography, the degree of weeding of the fields, the features of the predecessors and the requirements of crops.

Three tillage systems based on plowing, non-moldboard and their combination (combined tillage) are used in the Volga region.

In the north, north-west and west of the right bank districts the tillage system based on plowing is used. Plowing with different depths is recommended taking into account the type of soil, predecessor and crop: for cereals – to a depth of 20-22 cm, for row crops – to a depth of 30-32 cm.

In the more arid forest-steppe part of the crop rotations use combined main tillage. In the section of crop rotation with a bare fallow perform loosening (cheiseling), and in the sections with perennial grasses and row crops – plowing to a depth of 30-32 cm. Non-moldboard loosening is used on washed sloping lands.

In sharply arid steppe regions of the Volga region, especially on light soils, non-moldboard (flat-cut, chisel) tillage with stubble remaining on the soil surface is used. This tillage is most effective for moisture accumulation and in the fight against drought and soil erosion.

Presowing soil preparation on the usual plowing consists of harrowing in early spring in 2-3 trails, followed by cultivation as weeds germinate, and before sowing rolling. On stubble backgrounds after flat-cutting harrows БИГ-3 and ring-spiked rollers ЗКК-6А are used. Presowing cultivation is carried out simultaneously with sowing by seeding-cultivators СЗС-2,1. Such combination may not always give a satisfactory quality of work, so if the topsoil is very wet, cultivation and sowing are carried out separately, but without a gap in time.

Fertilizer system

In the forest-steppe, especially in its northern part, the efficiency of fertilizers is higher than in the rest of the Volga region. All cultivated crops respond well to the application of organic and mineral fertilizers. Winter and spring cereals are most responsive to nitrogen fertilizers, and when sowing winter crops after occupied fallows – to the full mineral fertilizer.

Organic fertilizers are applied in autumn under the processing of black fallow at a dose of 20-30 t/ha for fallow-occupied crops, beets, corn and potatoes.

Mineral fertilizers are used as the main fertilizer, during sowing or in the form of top dressing. The main fertilizer is applied during the main tillage of the fallow or soils. Mineral fertilizers, especially phosphorus fertilizers, are effective in rows during sowing and locally.

In the steppe part of the Volga region phosphate fertilizers are effective. The effect of manure in the first year is weaker than in the forest-steppe, but the effect is longer.

Application of organic and mineral, especially phosphorus fertilizers is necessary in chestnut soils.

Phosphorus fertilizers are most important in the Volga region, as they improve plant nutrition, increase drought resistance and winter hardiness of winter crops.

Fractional application of nitrogen fertilizers during winter cereal fertilization in doses of 30 kg/ha a.m. in autumn and spring gives good results.

The best place in the crop rotation for manure application in the steppe areas of the Volga region is bare fallow. 

Doses of organic and mineral fertilizers in the steppe are higher than in the forest-steppe. High fertilizer efficiency in the steppe is possible only with sufficient soil moisture. Therefore, the effectiveness of the fertilizer system strongly depends on the techniques that improve the water regime.

On soils subject to erosion, the doses of organic and mineral fertilizers are increased by 20-30%.

The use of microfertilizers must meet the requirements of cultivated crops. For example, sugar beet and legumes take micronutrients in large quantities than cereals.

Water regulation and erosion protection system

The total area of eroded land in the Volga region is more than 10 million hectares. Every year up to 60% of arable land is washed away. The largest area of washed away lands, more than 4.5 million hectares, is in Saratov region. Wind erosion is manifested on the area of 1100-1300 thousand ha, including 800-900 thousand ha in Volgograd region.

Soil erosion most often manifests itself in case of non-compliance with the requirements of soil-protective organization of the territory and agrotechnics. Correct and scientifically grounded organization of land area is the basis of anti-erosion complex.

On arable lands with slopes 1-3° and poorly washed away soils regular field, forage or special crop rotations with anti-erosion agrotechnics are introduced.

Mid-eroded arable soils on slopes with a steepness of 3-5° and soils of light granulometric composition are reserved for soil-protective field and forage crop rotations.

On moderately and strongly eroded lands with slopes and on deflated soils, crop rotations with strip and contour-buffer organization of the territory are introduced.

In strip arrangement, crops with good soil-protective properties, such as perennial grasses or winter cereals, alternate on each field in strips of 50-150 m with crops with poor soil-protective properties. The strips are placed across the direction of the prevailing winds, or on sloping lands – across the slope or horizontally.

Strongly washed away or strongly eroded lands with steepness of slope more than 5°, it is desirable to allocate under soil-protective crop rotations with perennial grasses and 2-3 fields of cereal crops or completely grassed.

On black earth soils subject to water and wind erosion (right bank) the following soil-protective crop rotation is recommended: 1-4 – perennial grasses (legume-cereal mixture), 5-6 – cereals, 7 – millet with grass undersowing. On chestnut and light chestnut soils subject to water and wind erosion (Left Bank) is recommended the following soil-protective crop rotation: 1-5 – perennial grasses (grass mixture of legumes and cereals), 6 – spring cereals, winter rye, 7 – barley.

Slopes with a steepness of 8 to 16° are grassed in the system of fringing forest strips and shrub bushes or planted.The system of protective plantations and hydro-technical constructions is connected with road network, cattle-runs, irrigation canals so that further use excludes the risk of development of erosion processes.

Agrotechnical anti-erosion measures (complexes) should be developed so that they prevent the development of water and wind erosion in any period of the year. They are developed by forecasting the possible development of erosion processes in individual fields of crop rotation, taking into account soil conditions, topography and properties of crops to be sown.

Under conditions of risk of wind erosion, the reduction of mechanical impact on the soil, preservation of crop residues and stubble on its surface are envisaged. Soil-protective technology of crops cultivation and a system of anti-erosion machines are used on all fields of crop rotations.

On soils subject to water erosion, a set of anti-erosion agrotechnical measures should prevent runoff of melt water and rainwater, washing out and erosion of soils. Melt water on ploughed soil is retained by means of autumn plowing with intermittent furrowing, hollowing or flat-cutting of the soil across the slope. On slopes of more than 2°, plowing with soil deepening and staggered tillage are used. Minimum tillage includes slitting in 2-4 m intervals and across the slope or horizontally.

In order to retain runoff in summer on arable slopes, spring crops are sown across the slope, slitting between rows of tilled crops and fallows, creation of buffer strips on crops and fallows.

It is desirable to carry out contour plowing along horizontals, the direction of which is determined by a leveler, on different-sided and hollow slopes.

Protective afforestation in all subzones of the Volga region is intended for retention, accumulation and uniform distribution of snow, transfer of surface water runoff into subsurface one, prevention of washout and gully formation, accumulation and conservation of moisture in soil and water sources, reduction of negative impact of dry winds and wind erosion. The maximum effect of field-protective afforestation is achieved when used in combination with soil-protective agrotechnics.

Hydrotechnical structures are created in order to immediately stop soil erosion in case of need. They include runoff sprayers, water-directing and water-draining ditches, terrace ramparts, water-retaining and water-draining ramparts, apex and bottom structures, and ponds.

Irrigation in conditions of southern Volga region is the most effective means of drought control. The efficiency of irrigation depends on the quality of irrigation systems, their technical level and condition, the correct use of reclaimed land.

Systems of irrigated agriculture, in addition to observance of general requirements (observance of irrigation norms, prevention of irrigation erosion and secondary salinization, etc.), should be combined with intensive crop rotations with sowing alfalfa, corn for grain and other highly productive crops.

Crop protection system

The Volga Region is characterized by a great diversity of species composition of pests and diseases of crops. More than 40 insect species inhabit wheat, rye, oat and barley crops. The most common are grain flies, thrips, aphids, bread sawflies, grain moths, wireworms, and the pest turtle. Wheat and barley are affected by root rot on large areas, especially in dry years, reducing yield by 0.1-0.25 t/ha. In some years, wheat crops may be affected by dust bunt and rust.

More than 200 pest species inhabit alfalfa crops. Corn sprouts are often damaged by wireworms. Potatoes are greatly harmed by Colorado potato beetle, fungal and viral diseases.

There are more than 200 species of weeds in this zone, including quarantine plants – Ambrosia trifida, Ambrosia pumila, Rhaponticum repens, Helianthus lenticularis and Cuscuta.

Damage to crops is caused by gophers, rodents, false weevils, gnawing moths and meadow moth.

Epiphytotics of powdery mildew and brown rust occur in irrigated and wet years.

Most species of pests, diseases and weeds are widespread in all zones, a smaller part – in certain areas. For example, in the forest-steppe part of the Volga region, cereal flies, biting worms, cereal aphids, powdery mildew and rust fungi are most common. Grain crops in the steppe part are most threatened by turtle bugs, bread beetles, grain flies, grain sawflies, grain moths, leaf and stem bread fleas, grain thrips and wireworms; diseases include brown rust, buntings, powdery mildew, root rot.

In dry and semi-desert steppe of Zavolzhye, crops are damaged by gophers and other rodents, insects such as grain moth, cereal thrips, and bread stalk sawflies. The most dangerous pathogens of cereal crops include root rot, spotted and linear bacterioses.

Agrotechnical methods

An important agronomic method of plant protection system is the observance of crop rotations, correct alternation and change of crops combined with quality main and pre-sowing tillage, observance of optimum sowing dates. Violation of technologies leads to loss of moisture, soil drying, poor clearance from pests, pathogens of diseases and weeds.

Introduction of legumes, row crops, fodder crops and oats into crop rotation allows suppressing root rot pathogens.

Spatial placement of crops is of significant importance. For example, separation of spring wheat crops from winter wheat by 1-1.5 km allows a 4-5-fold decrease in the infestation of spring wheat sprouts by Swedish and Hessian flies.

Biological methods

The biological method can be successfully used to control pests of sugar beet, peas, vegetable and fruit crops. For this purpose, it is necessary to carry out reproduction of trichogramma. Phytoseiulus can be effective against spider mite on cucumber in protected ground.

Bacterial preparations such as entobacterin, dendrobacillin can be used to control leaf-eating pests of vegetable crops, on potatoes against the Colorado potato beetle – boverin, Bitoxybacillin.

Bactorhodencid and bactocoumarin can be effective in rodent control in fields, warehouses, greenhouses and orchards.

Chemical methods

Application of chemical methods should be regarded as an exceptional measure whose effectiveness is evaluated taking into account economic threshold of harmfulness and availability of entomophages.

The sowing material of cereal crops is disinfected against all types of bunt diseases and root rot 3-6 months before sowing.

To prevent powdery mildew and rust, foliar feeding of spring wheat in the bushing-out phase with phosphorus-potassium fertilizers is used. Norms of application: potassium chloride 8 kg/ha, superphosphate 8-7 kg/ha, working fluid consumption – 100 l/ha.

Sources

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