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History of Farming in Russia

The history of farming is a branch of agriculture that studies the accumulated experience of mankind from ancient times to the present.

Modern agriculture, which is based on the use of the latest technology, modern equipment and improving agricultural techniques, is based on information obtained from centuries of experience in farming in different places around the world and under dissimilar conditions. The use of this knowledge makes it possible to avoid repeating mistakes and to achieve the goals of modern agriculture.


History of arable farming (Русская версия)

Ancient times

From its inception in the epoch of primitive communal system and nomadic way of life, the development of agriculture was reduced to primitive practices and folk omens. By passing the most important observations and practical experience from generation to generation, there was a gradual accumulation of knowledge. Before the emergence of writing, it was transmitted only orally.

With the transition from gathering wild plants to cultivating them in the fields, which lasted a very long time and was associated with many trials and errors, as well as the accumulation of knowledge about plant cultivation and tillage, new forms of management began to appear with a profound change in the primary landscapes. The process of large-scale deforestation and, consequently, the primary stage of soil degradation began.

It is fair to assume that farming began when tillage began. In 1926-1935. N.I. Vavilov developed the concept of the origin of world agriculture, which distinguished 8 main geographical regions of the history of agriculture development:

  1. West Asian,
  2. Indian,
  3. Central Asian,
  4. Chinese,
  5. Middle Mediterranean,
  6. African,
  7. Mexican,
  8. South American.

The first cultivated plants also appeared in these areas, most of which have survived to the present day.

According to archaeological research, cultivation of cultivated plants began about 10-12 thousand years ago, which caused a change in the way of human existence and conditioned the transition from natural sources of subsistence to food production.

N.I. Vavilov
N.I. Vavilov

The origin of the primary centers of agriculture in different regions independently of each other is dated from 5,000-3,000 to 8,000-6,000 years B.C.

In forest areas, people practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, which required knowledge of a system of technological techniques, such as: identifying a forest plot, slashing and burning, mixing ash with the soil, loosening and tillage. For many centuries, tillage tools were extremely primitive: ploughshare, wooden harrow, hoe, among harvesting tools – sickle and chain. Ash was considered as a source of soil fertility and plant nutrition.

The development of ancient farming centers took place independently of each other, as evidenced by the differences in the methods, tools and techniques of plant cultivation.

Irrigated agriculture also appeared in ancient times. In the giant river valleys of the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, and Indus several thousand years ago there was already a managed irrigation of the land, which determined the existence of state formations. The ancient Egyptians understood that flooding the fields during the Nile floods accomplished three tasks at once: moistening the fields, fertilizing them with river silt, and removing the salts accumulated on the soil surface during the dry period. There were legends about fertility.

In parallel with Egypt and Mesopotamia, that is, before II thousand years B.C., ancient irrigation developed in Central Asia as well. The soils of the Amu Darya delta are heavy with low fertility, so Khorezm farmers learned to fertilize them with various wastes and sand.

The emergence of writing enabled mankind to record its knowledge, first in rock drawings and writings and then in chronicles. During the period of the first Egyptian pharaohs, a cadastre of land according to fertility and profitability appeared.

Mesopotamia was the state of the Sumerians, one of the oldest countries with a highly developed agriculture for that time. Already at the beginning of the fourth millennium B.C. they reflected the results of their activities, accumulated experience, various advice on the performance of field works on the clay tablets called “farmer’s calendar”. They gave advice on tillage, preparation for sowing and growing crops, and control of weeds. Archaeologists have found tablets with the content of the dispute about the transition from hoeing to ploughing.

Archaeological sites in northern India indicate that Indian farming emerged in the 3rd or 2nd thousand years B.C., first in northern Hindustan and then to the more fertile alluvial plains to the south. Here the swidden system of farming was applied, and later artificial irrigation.

In Eastern China, even 4000 years B.C., much knowledge about agriculture was accumulated, and the government, managed the annual field work: it determined the time of plowing, fertilizing, sowing methods, etc.


The first special agronomical, biological and geographical works that have survived to our time, which describe the land-soil, its properties and fertility, belong to the ancient Greeks. They distinguished between types of soil and methods of cultivation within the framework of rain-fed agriculture of the Mediterranean type.

The role of agronomic knowledge and advice on farming was of great importance in ancient Greece. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) devoted several treatises – Natural History, On the Origin of Animals, etc. – to the subject of agriculture. In them he made the first attempts to classify plants and animals, gave the ways of their cultivation and maintenance. He distinguished the stages of nature: the inorganic world, plants, animals, and man. He suggested that plants need four elements: air, water, earth and fire.

A disciple of Aristotle and an outstanding plant researcher of ancient Greece, Theophrastus (ca. 372-287 BC), in his work “Studies on Plants,” recommended the best soils for growing crops, maintaining soil fertility, and the role of manure. This work of Theophrastus is considered the most important of the earliest botanical and agronomical works.

Greek agronomy was based on ancient Oriental agronomy, while Roman agricultural knowledge developed under the influence of the culture and science of ancient Greece. No works on the subject of agronomy have been found in the Romans until the 2nd century B.C.

The first ancient Roman works are by Magonus, Varrone, Catonus, Virgil, Columella, and Pliny. All of them were engaged in farming, as this occupation was considered the most worthy of a free citizen.

Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.) was a Roman statesman and writer. His book On the Affairs of the Countryside and his treatise on agriculture, in which he collected practical advice on various branches of the agricultural industry, such as tillage, cultivation of vineyards, olive orchards, grassland farming, and animal husbandry, have been preserved. Cato attempted to classify soils according to their suitability for growing cultivated plants, gave practical advice on the storage and timing of manure in the fields, gave recommendations on the cultivation of lupine, vetch, and beans for green fertilizer, and on the timing of mowing grass for hay (before the seeds begin to mature).

Cato wrote, good field cultivation means good plowing and manuring. If the farm does not have enough manure, he recommended using stalks, chaff, oak leaves, tall grass for sheep bedding, that is, he suggested increasing the amount of organic fertilizer through composting.

Agriculture, according to Cato, is the foundation of the Roman state, and the labor of the farmer is the purest, most faithful and without envy. He respected the farmers, of whom he wrote as the most courageous men and marvelous warriors.

Marcus Terentius Varron (116-27 B.C.) was an ancient Roman writer and encyclopedic scholar. He successfully summarized the material accumulated during the century after Cato. His work Agriculture has been preserved in its entirety until the present day. Varron paid much attention to the scientific approach in solving the problems of agriculture, suggested studying the soils by separate regions, advised to sow wheat on more “fat” soils and beans on more lean ones. Ancient authors had an idea about the “fats” of soil, on which its fertility depends.

Varron also wrote about green fertilizer and recommended cultivating and plowing lupine for this purpose.

Varron composed his work using literary sources and the knowledge of knowledgeable persons. He was the first to affirm the independence of agriculture as a science, noting its necessity and greatness.

Varron used Theophrastus’ works to characterize and classify the soil in Italy. He was an advocate of applying manure to the soil and was the first to propose the idea of considering farming and animal husbandry together. Varron believed that the most important task of farming was to take care of the fertility of the soil and suggested, among other things, the use of crop rotation.

Gaius Secundus Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) was a Roman scholar and writer, one of the last authors to write about agriculture. His work Natural History, comprising 37 books, was an encyclopedia that served as a reference for a number of branches of knowledge, including agriculture.

Pliny believed that the fertility of the soil was declining, and no amount of the most expensive methods of cultivation could compensate for it. In fact, he proposed a variant of the law of diminishing soil fertility. Pliny died tragically in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 when he tried to observe the natural phenomenon up close.

Lucius Iunius Moseratus Columella (1st century AD) was a prominent Roman writer and agronomist. He opposed the views of Pliny and some other authors. His work “On Agriculture”, consisting of 12 books, is a real encyclopedia of agriculture.

In discussions with proponents of the doctrine of declining soil fertility, he argued that a reasonable man would not allow the earth to become tired and exhausted, so that it would not provide sustenance with its former generosity. The earth cannot grow old if it is assisted by manure as food to restore its lost strength.

Columella called for a scientific approach to agriculture, experimentation and dissemination of agricultural knowledge, and the introduction of public courses in these sciences.

“He who would devote himself to the occupation of agriculture must first of all possess the following qualities: knowledge of business, ability to spend money, and the will to act.”


In his writings, Columella devoted much attention to the description and use of various fertilizers: manure, the preparation of composts, the use of ash, and the cultivation of lupine for green fertilizer. He classified fertilizers into manure, mineral fertilizers, green fertilizers, composts, and “earth earth” fertilizers. Green fertilizer, according to Columella, “has the power of the best manure.” An example of “earth by earth” fertilization is the improvement of sandy soils with clay, and of clay soils with sand.

Middle Ages

Beginning in the first century A.D., the development of science almost completely stopped, the works of ancient thinkers on agronomy and natural science were forgotten. Only 1000 years later began to return to the ancient authors, especially Aristotle and Columella.

The Middle Ages, or the age of feudalism, were characterized by stagnation in the development of the natural sciences until the 18th century, when large-scale economic transformations began.

New Age

During the New Age, in the second half of the 18th century in Western Europe, scientific farming developed largely due to the research of such scientists as A.D. Thayer, J. Liebich, T. Jung, etc.

Albrecht Daniel Thaer (1752-1828) was a German scientist who laid the foundations of agriculture in Germany. One of his main works is the theory of humus nutrition of plants.

Justus von Liebich (1803-1873) was a German scientist, one of the founders of agrochemistry. He developed the theory of mineral nutrition of plants and formulated one of the laws of agriculture – the law of return.

In the New Age the farming tools are noticeably improved. The main tool for tillage – plow was made of iron and steel, instead of the traditional wood. The plow, designed by Rudolf Sack, had the most perfect design. He was the first to begin factory production of plows with coulter in 1870. This plow quickly spread to many countries and constructively almost unchanged to this day.

The first seed drill, the principle of which is used today, was designed in 1830 in England. In 1781 a reaper was developed in Tula. In America for threshing were developed reaper machines, modernization of which led to the appearance of the first combine harvesters.

In the second half of the XIX century with the advent of steam, and then diesel and electric engines, the use of draft power decreased.

History of agriculture in Russia

18th century

As in other countries, the formation of agriculture as a science in Russia depended entirely on the development of natural and exact sciences. The need for scientific research was conditioned by the formation of industry, military affairs, agriculture and other sectors of the economy.

The 18th century can be characterized as a period of formation of agronomic science in Russia. The reforms carried out by Peter I and Catherine II, based on the thesis “agriculture is the first and main work”, gave importance to this direction.

M.V. Lomonosov

A great role was played by M.V. Lomonosov (1711-1765), an outstanding Russian scientist of wide knowledge. He conducted research in geography, economics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and other fields. He formulated the main tasks of Russia’s development for years to come, which in many ways remain relevant today:

  1. on the multiplication and preservation of the Russian people;
  2. the extermination of idleness;
  3. the correction of manners and the great enlightenment of the people;
  4. the correction of agriculture;
  5. the preservation of the art of war.

The task of correcting agriculture was reduced to a broad study of agriculture in all regions of Russia and the search for means to improve it. He believed that the development and improvement of agriculture was possible only with the help of science.

In 1765 on the initiative of M.V. Lomonosov the Free Economic Society was founded. Its scientific works were published for 105 years, they published the first scientific research and accumulated experience in agriculture. The society played an important role in national agronomy.

The merit in the formation and development of agricultural science in Russia belongs in many ways to the famous scientists A.T. Bolotov, I.M. Komov, M.G. Pavlov, V.A. Levshin, I.I. Samarin and many others.

A.T. Bolotov

Bolotov Andrey Timofeyevich (1738-1833) was one of the founders of agronomy in Russia. Due to his pioneering qualities, he put forward a program of priority research on agriculture in the areas of:

  • the study of the properties and qualities of lands;
  • cultivation and preparation of lands for sowing;
  • correction and fertilization of lands;
  • seed preparation;
  • sowing;
  • care of crops;
  • harvesting.

He singled out the main obstacles to successful farming: “the extreme ignorance of our farmers and the lack of property of the peasant. A.T. Bolotov wrote his works “On Fertilizing the Fields” (1770) and “On Dividing the Fields” (1771), in which he expressed the ideas on the increase of the soil fertility, ways to improve the combination of crop and cattle breeding, on soil and air nutrition of plants. Long before the founders of plant mineral nutrition Thayer and Libich suggested the role of minerals in plant nutrition.

A.T. Bolotov
A.T. Bolotov

I.M. Komov

Ivan Mikhailovich Komov (1750-1792) was an outstanding Russian agronomist. In his opinion, farming is the fertile ground on which all sciences and arts flourish. In his work “On Farming” he was one of the first to substantiate the alternation of crops, to propose the use of a fruit-changing system of arable farming, to consider the development of cattle breeding as the principal way to increase the fertility, and the abundance of manure as an organic fertilizer, and the change in the structure of areas under crops as the principal condition of achieving high crop yields.

I.M. Komov proved that restoration of soil fertility is achieved through plowing and manure:

“Tillage is the main thing in arable farming. It makes the land softer and juicier, gets rid of weeds and pests.”

I.M. Komov

He defended the view that repeated plowing was no substitute for fertilization, was against simplification and the use of formulaic methods in agronomy, and proposed to check the effectiveness of cultivation methods by experience.

M.G. Pavlov

Mikhail Grigoryevich Pavlov (1793-1840). For the first time he revealed the importance of soil processes in plant nutrition, developed the theory of fertilizer application, proposed to replace the cereal three-field system, the dominant arable farming system at that time, with intensive fruit-changing system. Just as I.M. Komov was a supporter of practice, considering it the embodiment of theory in action.

“Practice is inconceivable without theory, and theory without practice is fruitless.”

M.G. Pavlov

M.G. Pavlov’s “Course of Agriculture” in five volumes served for a long time as a fundamental guide for the education of many generations of Russian agronomists.

M.G. Pavlov
M.G. Pavlov

19th century

In the 19th century agronomic science in Russia was further developed thanks to the works of outstanding Russian scientists: A.V. Sovetov, P.A. Kostychev, D.I. Mendeleev, V.V. Dokuchaev, A.N. Engelhardt, K.A. Timiryazev, I.A. Stebut and many others.

A.V. Sovetov

Alexander Vasilyevich Sovetov (1826-1901) determined the level of arable farming culture, introduced field grass sowing, which intensified the use of scientific knowledge in agricultural production. He proved that sowing perennial grasses not only helped to develop animal husbandry, but also restored and increased soil fertility. Grass sowing in Russia, primarily of clover, awnless bromegrass, timothy and their mixtures, thanks to A.V. Sovetov, was used long before Western Europe.

A.V. Sovetov
A.V. Sovetov

A.N. Engelhardt

Engelhard Alexander Nikolayevich (1832-1893) became the founder of agrochemistry in Russia and played a great role in the period of agroeconomic reforms. He believed that Russian agriculture could develop by improving the literacy and culture of the peasants, understood the need to reorganize the village, so he advocated the appearance of artels, collective farming, attached great importance to the man, the owner. The whole system of farming depends on the latter: “if the system is bad, no machines will help”.

“There is no chemistry Russian, English or German, there is only chemistry common to the whole world, but agronomy may be Russian, or English, or German…”

A.N. Engelgard, Letters “From the Village,” 1882.

A.N. Engelhardt
A.N. Engelhardt

The ideas of A.N. Engelhardt were developed: it is impossible to conduct agriculture in modern conditions without applying scientific knowledge, the importance of highly qualified specialists is a key factor, and the principles of labor organization and integration of agriculture with the processing industry is the key to sustainable development of the agroindustrial complex of the country’s economy.

V.V. Dokuchaev

Dokuchaev Vasily Vasilievich (1846-1903) the founder of soil science. He was the first to determine that the soil is an independent natural body, formed due to the processes of interaction, relief, climate, flora and fauna, parent rocks and the age of the country. He proposed a scientific classification of soils according to their origin, paid attention to the issues of restoration and improvement of soil fertility through the organization of field-protective afforestation, regulation of the water regime and other methods.

The views of V.V. Dokuchaev was criticized, including K.A. Timiryazev and P.A. Kostychev, for the insufficient connection between genetic and agronomic soil science.

V.V. Dokuchaev
V.V. Dokuchaev

P.A. Kostychev

Pavel Andreevich Kostychev (1845-1895) developed the direction of agronomic soil science, established the relationship between soil and plants, showed the importance of anthropogenic influence on these relationships. He pointed out the great importance of the agrophysical properties of the soil: structure and structure, developed measures and determined the role of plants and soil cultivation to improve them. One of the merits of P.A. Kostycheva is the creation of the most perfect system of soil cultivation, combining weed control and regulation of the water regime.

I.A. Stebut

Stebut Ivan Alexandrovich (1833-1923) made a significant contribution to the theory and practice of agriculture. His monograph “Fundamentals of field culture and measures to improve it in Russia” (1873-1879) summarizes world and domestic experience and lays down the economic, organizational, technological foundations of agricultural production, taking into account the biological characteristics of crops and environmental conditions.

I.A. Stebut, thanks to his pedagogical talent, became the teacher of many famous Russian agronomists. He was called the patriarch of agronomy.

“Study the nature that surrounds you, study the soil from which you expect crops… Don’t ask me for recipes. I do not give you recipes, nor would I like to see copyists in you, but above all consciously thinking people, masters of their craft, fervently loving their profession.”

I.A. Stebout

I.A. Stebut
I.A. Stebut

D.I. Mendeleev

Mendeleev Dmitry Ivanovich (1834-1907), the great Russian chemist, devoted much of his work to research in agriculture, animal husbandry, land reclamation, forestry, and the processing of agricultural products. He identified four conditions of modern agriculture:

  1. availability of profitable breeds of animals and varieties of plants;
  2. the realization of the marketing of products as a commodity;
  3. the development of specializations;
  4. reducing the cost of physical labor by replacing it with machines.

D.I. Mendeleev attached great importance to the intensification of arable farming, the use of deep plowing for the use of nutrients in the subsoil layers, the use of fertilizers. He believed that it was possible to achieve high efficiency of agriculture only with a developed industry producing a sufficient number of modern machines, implements, mineral fertilizers. Agriculture needs much more capital than any other sector of the economy.

K.A. Timiryazev

Kliment Arkadievich Timiryazev (1843-1920) gained worldwide recognition for his works on photosynthesis and plant physiology, which showed the potential of increasing the productivity of agricultural plants. He considered the main task of arable farming to be the study of plant requirements and, with the help of various techniques, their satisfaction in order to develop plants in the direction required by an arable farmer. In his opinion, the connection of science and practice would allow “to grow two ears where before there was one”.

K.A. Timiryazev noted that maybe nowhere in any other activity is required to weigh so much diverse information, nowhere passion can lead to such a major failure as in agriculture.

K.A. Timiryazev
K.A. Timiryazev

20th century

Thanks to the efforts of N.I. Vavilov, K.A. Mendeleev, V.R. Williams, K.A. Timiryazev, D.I. Pryanishnikov, A.G. Doyarenko, N.M. Tulaykov and many others, a network of experimental agricultural institutions was organized in Russia, which became an important stage of development of domestic agronomy.

A.G. Doyarenko (1874-1958) studied the factors of plant life and their interrelations, the influence of agricultural practices on them, the use of solar energy by plants. The results of these studies are still relevant today. The study of water-air and nutrient regimes of soil led to the conclusion about the decisive role of arable soil structure, especially the capillary and non-capillary well ratio. A.G. Doyarenko revised the problems of experimental farming by studying the nature of field heterogeneity. It was he who defined the content of the educational course on arable farming, organizational methods and forms of the educational process, developed programs aimed at awakening interest in the studied discipline, the content and structure of which have not changed much so far.

Dmitry Nikolayevich Pryanishnikov (1865-1948) developed the theory of plant nutrition and methods of increasing soil fertility through extensive use of mineral fertilizers. Many of his works are devoted to the physiological foundations of modern arable farming and horticulture. The main area of D.N. Pryanishnikov’s research was the nitrogen metabolism in plants, thanks to which in Russia began to develop the production and use of nitrogenous fertilizers. He actively advocated the intensification of agriculture.

D.I. Pryanishnikov
D.I. Pryanishnikov

Vavilov Vasily Robertovich (1863-1939) paid much attention to soil-forming processes and the essence of soil fertility as a factor of plant life. He noted the importance of all factors of plant life in order to maximize the satisfaction of plant needs, and formulated the law of equal importance of plant life factors. Vavilov was engaged in theoretical and practical development of grass-field farming system, the widespread use of which as a universal way to increase fertility and yields was a big mistake.

Tulaykov Nikolay Maksimovich (1875-1938) made a great contribution to the research of farming systems in arid regions of the country. He developed the theory of shallow tillage, which contributes to the accumulation and preservation of moisture in the soil. He was the first to express the idea of using short rotation crop rotations in arid areas and laid the foundations of soil-protective farming.

The theoretical and practical basis of soil-protective farming is the depth of tillage. Shallow ploughless tillage replaced deep plowing, which was the main type of tillage for a long time.

I.E. Ovsinsky was a supporter of shallow ploughless tillage in Russia. He denied the need for deep plowing, and recognized the need for loosening the soil to a depth of 5-7.5 cm to kill weeds and incorporate fertilizers. For this purpose for the first time were designed cultivators-ploughshares. Practical experiments of shallow tillage system conducted at the beginning of the century did not show its effectiveness, but agronomic science continues research to replace tillage with the plow, reducing its depth and quantity.

Followers of N.M. Tulaykov’s ideas of shallow tillage: Jean (France), Faulkner (USA), Krause (Germany), also failed to achieve sustainable positive results. Shallow tillage led to an increase in weed infestation in the fields, which reduced productivity. Even on weed-free fields, shallow surface tillage, which provided favorable conditions for the growth of cultivated plants, became clogged in a few years and the farmer had to return to deep plowing with the plow.

T.S. Maltsev, A.I. Barayev and modern agricultural scientists – I.S. Shatilov, A.N. Kashtanov, M.I. Sidorov, V.D. Pannikov, I.P. Makarov, A.I. Puponin, A.M. Lykov, V.I. Kiryushin, S.A. Vorobyov, S.S. Sdobnikov, D.I. Burov, M.N. Zaslavsky, etc. – worked in the field of soil protection agriculture.

T.S. Maltsev (1895-1994) proposed to replacing plowing with non-moldboard plowing in areas of Western Siberia and Trans-Urals. The essence of his approach was to alternate deepnon-moldboard plowing to a depth of 25-27 cm with surface tillage of 10-12 cm by years and fields in cereal-convertible-husbandry-row-crop and cereal-convertible-husbandry crop rotations. Deep non-moldboard plowing is carried out once in 3-5 years.

In the early 60’s A.I. Barayev (1908-1985) proposed a new system of soil-protective arable farming on lands prone to wind erosion, which showed its effectiveness. In the new system, plowing was replaced by flat-cut tillage while keeping stubble on the soil surface and introducing cereal-convertible-husbandry crop rotations with a short to 3-5 years rotation instead of cereal-herb-row-crop crop rotations with a long rotation of 8-10 years. To implement the new system, a number of special anti-erosion equipment was developed and new crop cultivation technology was introduced.

With the development of technology and industry in the second half of the XX century, the need to lay the strategic and practical foundations of intensification of agriculture in agriculture. In the 70-80s research in this direction began, the basis was taken by the achievements in the field of chemization, integrated mechanization, land reclamation, the introduction of intensive crop cultivation technology, the development of methods of yield programming.

Current status

Modern trends of scientific research in farming are aimed at improving soil-protection systems in zonal farming systems, as well as in landscape-ecological farming. The latter is an alternative to technogenic farming, in which special attention is given to technology, technique and chemistry with minimal consideration of ecological and natural factors. Landscape-ecological farming prioritizes the biologization of processes, which, in turn, leads to a radical change in modern agriculture.

Modern farming is a science of rational, economically, ecologically and technologically sound use of land and formation of highly fertile soils, with optimal indicators for crop cultivation. The central concept of modern agriculture is soil fertility, its expanded reproduction and conservation, which is the key to obtaining high and sustainable yields of good quality.

Farming, like the majority of other natural sciences, is not a separate direction. Its development is closely connected with theoretical and practical achievements in other disciplines, such as soil science, land management and land use, plant physiology, agrochemistry, crop production, microbiology, biotechnology, agrometeorology, ecology, land reclamation, economy, etc.


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