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Types of farming systems

All farming systems, both former and existing at present, are characterized by the ways of land use, maintenance and improvement of soil fertility. The way of land use is determined by the ratio of land holdings and the structure of sown areas, and the way of increasing effective fertility by a complex of agrotechnical and reclamation measures. These attributes determine the intensity and rationality of the farming system.

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

The farming of the early period is characterized by low development of productive forces, use of the natural properties of the land, and the absence of any measures to restore and increase fertility.

As the transition from primitive forms of farming to more developed forms, the ratio of groups of crops becomes a decisive feature, in particular grains and technical continuous crops, forage grasses and row crops. The development of farming leads to improvements in the methods of restoring and improving soil fertility. If at the early stages natural processes of restoration dominated, then in intensive farming the decisive role is given to purposeful human activity through the use of fertilizers, especially mineral fertilizers, melioration, machinery, chemical and biological means of plant protection, etc.

Changing the method of restoration and improvement of fertility, in turn, allows to create conditions for cultivation of more demanding and productive crops, revision of their ratio in the structure of cultivated areas and applied agro-techniques.

Farming system was often named by the character of crop rotation, as it is based on the structure of cultivated areas and the most important agrotechnical and organizational measures. 

Farming systems developed in the following sequence: primitive, extensive, transitional, intensive.

Slash-and-burn, forest-field, fallow and swidden systems of farming are the first primitive forms of farming. They were used by people from the times of nomadic way of life. For primitive farming systems are characterized by small to 25% use of land for crops, the long natural process of restoring soil fertility, low productivity per unit area and high manual labor costs. In Russia, primitive farming systems were used in most of the territory until the XV-XVI centuries, in some regions of the South-East, Kazakhstan and Siberia – until the beginning of the XX century.

Primitive farming systems

Slash-and-burn and forest-field farming systems

Slash-and-burn farming system is a method of land development by burning natural forest vegetation. The freed area after a primitive surface tillage was used for the sowing of cultivated plants, such as cereals or flax. It was widespread in the northern part of Russia in the development of lands overgrown with forest.

People came to this method of land development as a result of observations: the plots after forest fires developed lush natural herbaceous vegetation.

By fertilizing with ash, the soil was enriched with nutrients and helped to neutralize the acidic reaction. Nitrogen was formed by decomposition of forest litter, residues of herbaceous vegetation and the activity of nitrogen-fixing microorganisms. This approach allowed good yields of cereal crops and flax in the first two years. However, later the soil quickly lost its fertility, its physical and chemical properties deteriorated and microbiological processes slowed down.

To prolong the period of use of developed plots, they sometimes began to leave the plots without crops for one or two years and apply manure if the underdeveloped livestock breeding allowed it. However, these measures did not prevent a decrease in the yield of cultivated crops. When the yields fell to a very low level, the farmer left the developed plot and moved to another one, and the former one was overgrown again.

With the emergence of private land ownership and as the arable area increased, it became necessary to return to the plots previously used for crops but abandoned and overgrown with forest. Thus the forest-field system of farming emerged, partially replacing the slash-and-burn system.

The swidden and forest-field systems are commonly referred to the period of the slave-owning system.

Old-fallow and swidden system of farming

Old-fallow farming system is a method of developing virgin lands with high natural fertility, occupied by grassy steppe vegetation, which were ploughed and sown with grain plants, less often with oilseed flax or melons. 

To ensure the mobilization of nutrients and the accumulation of moisture, the raised virgin lands were left to fallow for a while. However, the repeated cultivation of cereal crops led to a gradual decrease in yields.

For this reason, it became more profitable to leave a plot after use as fallow land (a long unused plot, “old-fallow”) and develop a new virgin steppe plot. The plot left for fallow land was overgrown with weeds, and 15-20 years later, after the typical virgin vegetation appeared on it, it was ploughed and used again for crops. Thus, the original fallow system evolved into a swidden system.

“The swidden system directly emerged from the way the steppes were populated, from the nomadic nature of the peoples who inhabited them, from the excess of land space relative to the population, from the unparalleled productivity of the steppe black soil”.

A.V. Sovetov.

The main difference between the old-fallow and swidden systems is that the old-fallow system does not return to the abandoned ploughed areas. Whereas in the swidden system the land mass was divided into several plots, some of which were used for seeding cereal crops, the rest, which had lost their fertility, were left as swidden plots for 10-30 years. After the natural recovery of fertility, the swidden plots were cultivated again and sown with cultivated plants.

Soil fertility was restored naturally by means of various herbaceous vegetation. Due to higher natural fertility of steppe zone soils and the role of perennial and other herbaceous vegetation in fertility reproduction, the period of its recovery was much shorter compared to forest vegetation. Crops were planted on the same plot for 6-8, sometimes 10 years.

Old-fallow and swidden systems of farming are characteristic of steppe areas, so they were widespread in a number of countries with steppe lands. In Russia they were widespread in the Black Earth zone, the Volga region, and less common in the south of the country.

With the development of natural sciences, in particular, the theory of plant nutrition, the scientific justification of these farming systems changed as well. With the dominance of the humus theory of nutrition the restoration of soil fertility was explained by the influence of natural herbaceous vegetation on humus accumulation (A. Thayer, I.M. Komov, M.G. Pavlov). With the creation of the theory of mineral nutrition of plants, the decline in grain yield for a number of years after the plowing of virgin land was explained by the depletion of soil phosphorus and other nutrients (K. Libich).

P.A. Kostychev, examining samples of virgin black earth soils and old arable lands, established the absence of a noticeable difference in their chemical compositions. The old-fallow black earth soils also contained a sufficient amount of humus, while the virgin lands had a better soil structure. However, P.A. Kostychev did not think that the loss of structure was the only reason for the reduction of cereal crop yield after plowing the virgin land. The land had to be left fallow, not because it was depleted, but because of weed infestation, which could not be combated by ordinary tillage. Therefore, it was much more profitable to move to a new plot.

Extensive farming systems

Extensive farming systems are characterized by an increase in crop production due to expansion of agricultural land without additional investments of labor and funds per unit area. Extensive farming systems include fallow, or cereal-fallow and multi-field-grass systems.

The degree of intensity of fallow and multi-field-grass farming systems is much higher than the primitive forms. Most of the land suitable for cultivation is converted into arable land. However, large areas are allocated for bare fallow, cereals or perennial grasses predominate among crops, and highly productive forage and industrial crops are practically absent. Soil fertility is maintained through natural factors, directed to a greater extent by human beings, e.g. by sowing grasses and cultivating fallows, and to a lesser extent by means of industrial inputs. For this reason, farming systems are not classified as intensive.

Fallow system

The fallow system is a farming system that replaced the swidden and old-fallow systems, in which fallow fields were introduced.

The need to introduce fallow fields was justified by the fight against weeds. Management and economic conditions forced to reduce the period of fallow fields and at the same time the duration of use of ploughed fallow fields for sowing crops. For this reason, in order to suppress weeds and rationally use the land, fallow tillage between cereal crops was introduced. Thus, the swidden system turned into a transitional swidden-fallow form and in some cases – directly into fallow system.

The emergence of the fallow system of farming occurred during feudalism. Population growth led to an increase in the demand for agricultural products, which caused the expansion of the agricultural area and a reduction in the time to 1-2 years of using swidden fallow.

The fallow system can be considered a better farming system, as land use improved and grain production increased. The appearance of commercial grain in Russia is associated with the beginning of the use of the fallow system.

Soil cultivation in the fallow field combined with the application of fertilizers, primarily manure, was human intervention in the natural soil processes, which led to an increase in yields. Cereal crops in the fallow system account for up to 2/3 of the arable area, with fallow fields occupying the rest.

The most common crop rotations of the fallow system were:

  • two-field: 1 – fallow, 2 – cereals;
  • three-field: 1 – fallow, 2, 3 – cereals;
  • less often four-fallow: 1 – fallow, 2, 3, 4 – cereals.

A great disadvantage of the fallow system was the absence of fodder crops, which had a negative effect on livestock production. The ploughing of swidden plots also led to the reduction of pastures. A fallow field was used to graze cattle in spring and summer and autumn after the grain harvest, the rest of the fields were used. However, this approach did not provide livestock with sufficient fodder. Livestock productivity decreased, as did the amount of manure, which in turn had a negative effect on crop yields. Cattle breeding, not having a solid basis, was called manure agriculture.

Despite the progressiveness of the fallow system compared to swidden and old-fallow systems, untimely tillage of fallow and fields due to grazing, poor tillage, constant cultivation of annual cereal plants led to weeding, decreased fertility and deterioration of physical properties of the soil. Low cropping culture led to the development of erosion in many regions, and yields remained rather low and unstable. For example, grain yields were 0.5-0.7 t/ha, and in dry years not even seeds were harvested.

In the central regions of Russia, the fallow system appeared in the beginning of the 16th century, became widespread and remained the main till 1917. V.I. Lenin characterized the cereal-fallow system of tsarist Russia as the most conservative and subjected it to serious criticism, not providing the most basic conditions for progress in agriculture.

Under the conditions of socialist agriculture, the cereal-fallow farming system acquired a different significance. Thanks to good technical equipment, the best timing of tillage of fallow and other fields of the crop rotation, the application of optimal amounts of fertilizers, and the carrying out of variety sowing, the cereal-fallow system has shown its effectiveness. It with three-field or four-field crop rotations in conditions of application of soil-protective, forest-reclamation measures and modern technologies of crops cultivation is used even now in a number of arid regions of Kazakhstan and Siberia, in which other cropping systems are less effective due to special climatic, soil and economic conditions.

In Western Europe, the fallow farming system has not been used for a long time. It has survived only in the grain farms of arid regions of the USA, Canada and some other countries, where its application is economically justified.

Multi-field-grass system

Multi-field-grass, or pasture system was a farming system in which a limited part of land was allocated for cereals and other crops, and most of it – for perennial grasses, which were first used as natural grasses, then sown for hay and grazing for 4-6 years. Was common in some seaside and mountainous areas of different countries. It resulted from the development of cattle breeding.

Due to the dual nature of the use of perennial grasses, A.S. Ermolov considered it correct to call this system not a pasture, but a multi-field-grass system. Fertility of soil in this system is maintained by natural factors, however, directed to a certain extent by man by grass sowing and tillage of fallow fields.

An example of such a system is the Mecklenburg system, which originated in Germany in the mid-18th century as a development of the fallow system.

In regions with a more continental climate, the multi-field-grass system has shown less efficiency in comparison with cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) crop rotation and other systems with fodder crops.

In the Non-Black Soil zone, multi-field-grass crop rotations were used in combination with cereal and fallow crops. Thus, at the farm of Engelhardt (Smolensk region) a 15-field crop rotation was applied: 1-6 – perennial grasses, 7 – flax, 8 – fallow, 9 – rye, 10 – spring, 11 – fallow, 12 – rye, 13 – spring, 14 – fallow, 15 – rye.

From 1871 to 1897, the farm of Petrovskaya Academy (now K.A. Timiryazev Moscow Agricultural Academy) used a 12-field Markovsky crop rotation, in which six fields were devoted to perennial grasses.

The multi-field-grass system also has disadvantages. For example, there are no intensive row crops and industrial crops in the crop rotations, the use of fertilizers and ameliorants is limited, which affects the relatively low yield per unit area at high costs.

Large areas sown with selfseeding leguminous grasses (alfalfa and clover) allow the application of nitrogen fertilizers to be dispensed with. However, the productivity of arable land does not change significantly.

This system is used at present in sparsely populated countries with large land resources, for example, in Australia, where the average population density of one person per 1 km2.

In Russia, the multi-field-grass cropping system in its pure form is not widespread, although its individual elements, for example, soil-protective multi-field-grass forage crop rotations in combination with crop rotations of other systems are successfully used. For example, in some areas of the former USSR republics: the Baltic States, western Ukraine, Belarus.

Transitional farming systems

Transitional systems of farming include improved cereal and grass-field systems, which are a continuation of the improvement of cereal-fallow and multi-field-grass systems. Transitional systems of farming were known already in Ancient Rome, but became widely used in Western Europe only in XVIII-XIX centuries.

In Russia, they appeared in different forms with the use of grass sowing in the second half of the 18th century in farms with developing dairy cattle breeding, specializing in the cultivation of industrial crops, primarily in landowners’ farms.

The improved cereal and grass-field systems are transitional forms from extensive farming to intensive farming. They differ from the previous systems by fuller use of arable land, the introduction of row crops or perennial grasses in crop rotations.

Transitional farming systems are characterized by the development of farming machinery, improved tillage. They significantly contributed to the development of livestock and increase the amount of organic fertilizers. At the same time, the role of human activity in the reproduction of soil fertility has increased and crop yields have increased. However, these forms of farming did not allow sufficient use of the intensification of production.

Improved grain system

The improvement of the grain-fallow (cereal-fallow) farming system occurred due to the introduction of one or two fields of perennial grasses into the crop rotation. Examples are:

  • I.I. Samarin’s four-field crop rotation that arose in Yaroslavl province in the early 19th century: 1 – fallow, 2 – winter crops with undersowing of clover, 3 – clover, 4 – spring cereals;
  • Volokolamskoe eight-fields in the Moscow Province: 1 – fallow, 2 – winter crops sown with clover and timothy, 3-4 – clover and timothy, 5 – spring cereals, 6 – fallow, 7 – winter crops, 8 – spring cereals.

Later in the crop rotations of the Non-Black Soil zone seeded fallows began to appear, partially reducing the areas of bare fallows, leguminous and row crops.

In the Black Earth regions, fields with row crops occupied by sugar beet, corn or sunflower were introduced into grain-(fallow) crop rotations: 1 – fallow, 2 – winter wheat, 3 – sugar beet or corn, 4 – spring wheat or barley.

Multi-field-grass farming system was also gradually improved to improved grain farming system by reducing the area under perennial grasses and increasing the share of crops sown with cereals.

The improved grain system was widespread in the Non-Black Earth zone. Cereal-grass crop rotations accounted for half to 2/3 of the arable land, 15-25% under bare fallow and 20-30% under perennial grasses. As a rule, row and leguminous crops were cultivated. Soil fertility was maintained through perennial grasses, fallow cultivation, and fertilizers, especially manure.

The introduction of perennial grasses and row crops into crop rotations significantly improved the fodder base of cattle breeding. The inclusion of row crops made it possible to improve the techniques of tillage, fertilization and increased the general culture of farming.

In Western Europe, the improved grain system was widespread in Germany, Austria, and some areas of France.

The improved cereal system was improved: the area of pure fallows was reduced by replacing them with seeded fallows, row crops were introduced into the crop rotations, and the transition to the cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) crop rotation system gradually took place. A.S. Ermolov called such transitional forms an improved grain system with more or less developed fruit-changing.

At present, this system of farming is used in the grain areas of the south, southeast of European Russia, less in Siberia. Under these conditions, it has shown good efficiency and became known as a fallow-row system.

In fallow-row crop rotations cereals account for 50 to 70% of arable land, row crops, leguminous plants and groats – 15-20%, bare fallows – 15-20%. Reproduction of soil fertility is carried out through intensive cultivation of fallow and row crop fields, which are also a means of weed control, fertilization, application of moisture retention measures.

An example of fallow-row crop rotation is the four-field crop rotation recommended by I.A. Stebut for farms with a potato direction: 1 – fallow, 2 – oats, 3 – potatoes, 4 – spring crops. In beet-growing areas, a similar four-field crop rotation with sowing of sugar beet after winter cereals was used.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the fallow-row five-field system, in which two crops were sown after fallow: in Siberia – two spring crops, in the southeast – winter and spring crops, followed by row crops and spring cereals, became widespread.

In the modern variant of the improved grain system – cereal (grain)-row system – the improvement of the structure of sown areas, the introduction of rational crop rotations adapted to natural conditions, the use of more perfect tillage systems in combination with scientifically justified system of fertilization and sowing of cereal and row crops varieties, allowed to use it quite successfully. In the cereal-fallow system of farming, most of the arable land falls on cereal and row crops in combination with bare fallow. Soil fertility is reproduced by tillage and fertilizer application.

Cereal-fallow-row farming system is more perfect, the yield per unit area compared to the improved grain system is much higher. It is widespread in the steppe regions of the Volga region, Ukraine, the North Caucasus, the Central Black Earth zone, in recent years – in the steppe regions of Siberia, Trans-Urals and Kazakhstan.

Sideral system can also be attributed to the improved grain system, in which all the green mass grown on the fallow field is plowed as a green fertilizer. The origin of this system dates back to ancient times: it was known in ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and the countries of the East. However, only at the end of the XIX century Schulz-Lupitz in Germany formulated the basics of the system of farming with the use of green and mineral fertilizers. It was widespread in regions with a fairly humid climate and poor sandy and sandy loam soils. Most often bitter annual lupine was used as a green manure, less often perennial lupine. After the development of alkaloid-free fodder lupine, it became the most widespread.

Late plants for green fertilizer began to be sown on stubble, after harvesting the main crop, and the sideral system has lost its independence, as stubble crops can be cultivated under any farming system.

Under modern conditions, the green manure (sideral) system is preserved in some areas of the Non-Black Earth zone, where perennial lupine is used, but green manure is not the only way to maintain fertility in these conditions.

Grass-field system

The development of field grass growing and the emergence of a number of farming systems, with the sowing of perennial grasses it was decided to combine these systems into grass-field farming. V.G. Bazhaev (1900) thought that the term “grass-field farming” was close to the German one, by which in Germany they meant the system of field farming, in which the field was used for several years for annual crops, then for several more years for growing grasses. As noted by V.G. Bazhaev, these systems combine the swidden and pasture systems. Over time, grass-field farming expanded to include other systems with cultivation of fodder grasses, including the improved cereal system with grass sowing.

A.N. Shishkin (1894) also referred to grass-field farming as a system of field farming.

“Only with the introduction of grass sowing in the fields, simple cereal systems change into grass-field systems – improved grain, pasture and cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing)”.

A.N. Shishkin

L.I. Skvortsov (1890) subdivided the cereal farming system into fallow-cereal, grass-field and cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) farming systems. By grass-field he meant multi-field-grass, steppe swidden system.

Thus, at the end of XIX century, grass-field farming, or system, was understood as several systems differing by intensity and main features.

V.R. Williams developed grass-field farming system, combining improved grain and multi-field-grass crop rotations into one system with two crop rotations: field and meadow, which was effective in conditions of organization of large collective and state farms with significant areas of agricultural land. Organization of crop rotations with sowing of perennial grasses and annual plants in meadows increased productivity of natural forage lands several times and development of cattle breeding on this basis led to an increase of manure and yield of cereal crop rotations.

According to V.R. Williams, the grass-field system includes links:

  • a system of field and forage crop rotations;
  • system of main and pre-sowing tillage;
  • system of fertilizers in crop rotations;
  • system of field protective forest plantations;
  • construction of ponds and reservoirs in steppe and forest-steppe areas;
  • sowing with high-yielding varietal seeds.

The theoretical basis of grass-field farming system was the notion of natural process of soil formation under vegetation cover.

P.A. Kostychev and V.V. Dokuchaev in the 80s of XIX century, observing the results of plowing of wall black earth after leaving the plot to fallow, came to the conclusion that soil fertility is restored under the influence of natural, successively changing herbaceous vegetation. Steppe vegetation allowed the soil to accumulate humus and form a strong granular structure. According to P.A. Kostychev, structural soil could be formed only on virgin and fallow lands. Improvement of the structure should have helped to optimize the water regime of the soil.

Recognizing the disadvantage of the swidden system in the long duration of fertility and soil structure restoration, P.A. Kostychev and V.R. Williams established that the first phase of the sod process of soil formation – the phase of heavily vegetated swidden overgrowth, in which coarse structure is created, can be accelerated by tillage.

The second main phase – formation of fine lumbly structure under the influence of root systems of loose cereal grasses can be reduced by sowing these grasses in the fields.

About the third phase W.R. Williams wrote:

“The significance of the third phase comes down to giving the structural elements strength and to enriching the soil of swidden by elements of ash nutrition of plants and nitrogen, deep-rooted legumes. The same effect and to the same extent can be achieved in the crop by simultaneous and joint sowing of loose cereal grasses and perennial legumes. These are the three main provisions on which the grass-field farming system is based”.

W.R. Williams

In field grass-field crop rotations, two fields were allocated for sowing a mixture of perennial legumes and cereal grasses, and in forage crop rotations, most of the arable land was allocated for perennial grasses with a long period of use. Spring crops were placed after perennial grasses. It was not allowed to sow winter and row crops after perennial grasses, as it was assumed that the soil structure would be destroyed faster.

The organization of the territory envisaged the placement of forested areas in watersheds, field crop rotations on slopes and plateaus, and forage and vegetable crop rotations in valleys.

Grass-field farming system began to replace fallow farming system in collective and state farms. The positive features of grass-field farming system include:

  • cultural tillage with plows with skimmers,
  • introduction of multi-field field and forage crop rotations,
  • organization of the territory,
  • creation of field-protective forest plantations and water reservoirs in arid areas.

In some cases, the introduction of the grass-field system contributed to an increase in productivity and development of animal husbandry.

W.R. Williams contrasted perennial grasses to annual crops in terms of their effect on soil fertility. He considered perennial grasses consisting of legumes and cereals as crops that accumulate organic matter and improve soil structure. Although his predecessors P.A. Kostychev and A.A. Izmailsky had proved the ability of annual crops to improve soil structure, he was of the opinion that these crops worsened soil structure. V.R. Williams suggested using only grass-field crop rotations in all regions of the USSR, regardless of the yield of perennial grasses for hay. His theory argued that manure could not serve as a means of improving soil structure and excluded the use of a tooth harrow and roller in the tillage system for fear of destroying the structure.

W.R. Williams overestimated the role of strong structure and the importance of perennial grasses in recreating it. He considered the sowing of a mixture of perennial cereals and legumes to be mandatory, since legumes alone, in his opinion, could not solve this problem.

D.N. Pryanishnikov, N.M. Tulaykov, A.G. Doyarenko, S.P. Kulzhinsky, N.S. Sokolov criticized the erroneous positions of V.R. Williams. D.N. Pryanishnikov proved by his many-year experiments that a good soil structure can be recreated not only under grass mixtures, but also under pure sowings of alfalfa or clover. D.N. Pryanishnikov defined the conditions of grass-field crop rotations and cited crop rotations without perennial grasses.

Subsequent experiments also did not confirm the conclusions about firmly compacted structure as the main condition of fertility, about a mixture of loose grasses and leguminous grasses as the only means to improve soil structure. Research and farming practice have also not confirmed the statement about the inadmissibility of sowing winter and row crops after perennial grasses.

For example, in the Northern Caucasus, in the Non-Black Earth and Central Black Earth zones, and in some other areas, winter wheat and rye give much higher yields after perennial grasses than spring wheat.

Along with crop rotations, tillage is of great importance in the grass-field system. The system of autumn tillage, including harvest discing and plowing, is widespread. The quality of tillage has increased due to the use of the plough with a skimmer and the deepening of the arable layer, especially on soddy-podzolic soils.

Concerns about soil structure degradation under the influence of disc tools, tooth harrows and rollers, which were recommended to be used only for maintenance of crops, were also unfounded.

A fertilizer system, which included a combination of organic and mineral fertilizers, received some development. However, the erroneous opinion of W.R. Williams was about the uselessness of using mineral fertilizers on unstructured soils and the use of manure in the form of raw humus. Despite criticism of grass-field system by some scientists, it was promoted in 30-40s and universally recommended as the only correct and progressive. However, later it was abandoned everywhere.

At present, the grass-field farming system is understood as a system in which more than half of the arable area is occupied by perennial grasses and soil fertility is reproduced by growing perennial grasses and fertilizing.

Grass-field farming system with a reasonable combination of individual sections of crop rotation may be used under local conditions in the zone of sufficient moisture, in particular, in some areas of the Non-Black Earth and forest-steppe zones, in which high yields of perennial grasses are obtained.

Field grass sowing should not be equated with the grass-field farming system. It is an integral part of different systems, such as multi-field-grass, cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing), improved grain, which differ sharply in intensity.

Intensive farming systems

Intensive farming systems are systems that ensure the reproduction of soil fertility and increase yields through extensive use of intensification factors. They include systems:

  • cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing),
  • row crop,
  • cereal-fallow.

Intensive farming systems emerged as a result of the rapid development of capitalism, urbanization, and increased demand for agricultural products, especially livestock products. The cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) system with a better structure of sown areas and rational use of land, came to replace the cereal-fallow and cereal-fallow-row systems.

However, intensive farming system may not always be rational. Experience of global farming has shown that high land availability and difficult climatic conditions allow grain farming at minimum labor and inputs, which is more profitable than the intensive approach, while in densely populated areas and in a favorable climate it is more efficient to develop more labor-intensive industries and apply more intensive farming systems.

Reproduction of fertility in intensive farming systems is achieved by enhanced nutrient cycling:

the application of organic and mineral fertilizers,
qualitative tillage,
regulation of microbiological processes,
use of chemical and other means of controlling weeds, diseases and pests of crops,
reclamation activities,
high level of mechanization.

Therefore, it can be effective only if there is a high level of farming culture. 

In Russia, due to weak technical and material equipment of agriculture, the row crop system was less widespread than the cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) system. Depending on the prevailing market demand at one time or another, it often changed into the so-called free land use system.

Nowadays, the row crop system is common in areas of intensive row crop cultivation, for example in the Kuban, Ukraine, Moldova, and Central Asian countries. In areas with a high risk of erosion and in farms technically insufficiently equipped, it has little prospect.

Intensive technology of crop cultivation includes a set of agronomic and organizational measures aimed at obtaining high yields with a minimum share of manual labor. The technology provides for increase of soil fertility, maintenance of crop rotations, introduction of high-yield varieties and hybrids, adapted to mechanized cultivation, application of optimal, scientifically validated norms of mineral fertilizers, use of plant protection chemicals, introduction of modern machinery, optimization of organization and labor. An obligatory requirement of intensive technology of cultivation of any crop is the observance of all agronomic practices in optimal terms with high quality and taking into account the biological requirements of crops.

Cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) system

Cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) system farming system is a system in which the key importance is the alternation of soil-depleting crops, such as cereals, with enriching ones, such as legumes or perennial grasses, in the crop rotation.

Distinctive features of the cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) system are:

  • plowing natural forage lands and turning them into arable land, except for some
  • of the highly productive meadows;
  • cultivation of forage, the most productive crops;
  • abandoning bare fallows and replacing them with leguminous grasses;
  • alternation of crops that deplete and enrich the soil – fruit changing.

In the countries of Western Europe, the abandonment of old-fallow and fallow-cereal farming systems occurred at a faster pace than in Russia. Therefore, the fruit-changing system in Europe was more widespread and much earlier.

This system began in Flemish and Flanders – part of the lands of today’s Belgium and Holland – in the 16th-17th centuries. It quickly became dominant in England, then in France (18th century) and Germany (19th century).

Plants can be divided into three groups according to their need for nutrients:

  • crops that deplete the soil, primarily cereals, which consume significant amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus;
  • crops that are able to assimilate air nitrogen and enrich the soil with it, including legumes and leguminous plants;
  • root crops and tubers, which consume a lot of potassium and less phosphorus and nitrogen.

In the fruit-changing system winter crops were placed after legumes and leguminous crops, and row crops after winter crops. Row crops were followed by spring cereals. Repeated sowing of cereals was not allowed. Rotation of crops involved an annual change in the fields. In order to maintain and increase fertility in the structure of sown areas, half of the arable land was allocated for cereals and the other half for legumes and row crops. Bare fallow was replaced by busy clover seeded fallow.

The transition to the fruit-changing system meant that the purely grain farm gave way to the farm with developed livestock breeding and cultivation of technical and row crops. The development of livestock farming led to the expansion of leguminous grasses and fodder crops.

In England, the Norfolk rotation was formed, which is a classic example of fruit changing: 1 – winter wheat, 2 – fodder root crops, 3 – barley with undersowing of clover, 4 – clover. This crop rotation has the typical proportion of crops: cereals – 50%, row crops – 25% and legumes – 25%.

Climatic conditions of Western Europe contributed to the rejection of bare fallow: a sufficient amount of precipitation and a long vegetation period, allowing a good preparation of the soil for sowing winter crops after harvesting clover, which replaced the fallow field. The introduction of fruit-change crop rotations was sometimes facilitated by failures as well. For example, in France, on permanent plots of sugar beet, root infestation by nematodes constantly increased, for this reason, the beet began to be introduced into crop rotation as a row crop.

A.V. Sovetov, trying to optimize the fruit-changing to the conditions of Russia, noted that the fruit-change system has a great flexibility. Most often, one field of a fruit-change crop rotation is occupied by clover or other leguminous grasses, but there are crop rotations that use annual legumes for green fodder, hay, or for grain instead of perennial grasses.

The inclusion of row crops in the crop rotation required deep tillage, in particular deep plowing and plowing with deepening plows, as well as the application of organic fertilizers, primarily manure, the effect of which extends to subsequent crops.

Transition from the fallow-cereal three-field system to the cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) system including intensive use of fertilizers and deep tillage contributed to the growth of average wheat yield in Western Europe from 0.7-0.8 t/ha (18th century) to 1.6-1.7 t/ha (1840-1880) and to 2.5-3.0 t/ha (1900-1930) when mineral fertilizers were applied. In recent decades, a modern fruit-change farming system allows to obtain more than 4.0 t/ha.

As far back as in XVIII-XIX centuries, Russian scientists such as A.T. Bolotov, I.M. Komov, M.G. Pavlov, P.A. Kostychev, I.A. Stebut, A.N. Engelhardt and others, who made many suggestions on improvement of this system and its adaptation to the conditions of Russia, were the supporters of the fruit-change system.

Before the Revolution (1917), the fruit-changing system of farming was successfully used only on individual landowners’ farms, mainly on beet-growing farms. It was inconvenient for the conditions of one-sided grain or grain-livestock farming. Peasant farms were not economically ready for the transition to the fruit-changing system. At the beginning of the 20th century, D.N. Pryanishnikov and S.P. Kulzhinsky were supporters of the crop rotation system, who attached special importance to correct crop rotation and introduction of leguminous crops into the crop rotation.

The transition from a cereal-fallow system to a fruit-changing system was a progressive step in the development of agriculture. According to modern concepts, fruit-changing crop rotation successfully solves the issues of increasing soil fertility through the use of fertilizers, legume crops, deep tillage and weed control.

In modern Russian farming, the fruit-changing system, along with other intensive farming systems, is widespread in the Central Black Earth zone and the North Caucasus. However, the requirements imposed on agriculture of the present time do not allow to call it optimal.

Industrial-plant (row crop) system

The development of commercial agriculture in Russia in the mid-19th century, led to the emergence of a row crop, industrial-plant, or vegetable farming system, primarily in areas specializing in the production of sugar beets, sunflowers, potatoes, and vegetables. The cultivation of these crops determined the relationship of agriculture to the processing industry. For this reason, A.V. Sovetov, A.S. Ermolov, and other scientists called this system industrial.

The industrial-plant system was based on the intensification of labor, sufficient use of fertilizers, and was almost independent of soil and climatic conditions. A.V. Sovetov noted that in Russia in the second half of the XIX century in some areas the fallow system has long been forgotten and replaced by new ones. For example, to such areas he referred Yaroslavl province, where Rostov vegetable gardening, cultivated potatoes for starch and distillery industry, grew sunflowers and sugar beets. In 1890 A.I. Skvortsov noted, in the farms technical fruit-changing system has a pronounced character:

“… Here not only two cereals are not allowed to be cultivated consecutively, but more often, on the contrary, two root crops, even of the same species, are allowed to be cultivated”.

A.I. Skvortsov

However, in pre-revolutionary Russia this system was even less widespread than the fruit-changing system.

In the industrial-plant system arable land was mainly used for sowing valuable cereals, leguminous plants, technical and highly productive forage crops. The remaining area of meadows is transformed into highly productive hayfields and pastures. The structure of sown area is determined based on the specialization of the farm and natural-economic conditions.

Bare fallows are introduced periodically, perennial, especially legumes, grasses in the main crop rotations occupy a small proportion of arable land or are absent at all. On soils subject to erosion, the share of grasses increases.

Modern farming systems

Primitive farming systems are a thing of the past. The multi-field-grass system was not widespread before. Unlike the pre-revolutionary system, the modern cereal-fallow system uses good machinery, efficient tillage methods, fertilizers, reclamation and anti-erosion measures, and varietal crops. It is widespread in arid areas where cultivation of row crops and legumes is limited.

In the areas of sugar beet, sunflower, corn and other crops of wide-row method of sowing, where the grain farming system with cultivated crops was developed, tillage was improved, use of fertilizers increased and cropping culture was improved. This type of improved grain system is widely used nowadays in arid areas of the North Caucasus and Central Black Earth zone, in the Middle and Lower Volga region, partly in Western Siberia.

The development of improved grain system has reached such a degree that it has divided into two independent forms: with grass sowing – cereal-grass, with row crops – cereal-fallow-row.

Intensive farming systems were widespread. In the industrial areas of the Non-Black Earth Zone, in the forest-steppe zone and on irrigated lands, the fruit-changing system is used. Cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing) crop rotations occupy about 50% of arable land; the remaining part is occupied by legumes and row crops. The share of legumes may reach 25%, and of row crops – from 25% to 50%. Bare fallows are not used. Intermediate crops are actively used. Perennial grasses are usually used for one year, after which winter cereals are sown. Less often, legume grasses are replaced by leguminous or row crops.

The industrial-plant system is used in enterprises specializing in cultivation of technical and forage row crops, vegetables or potatoes. In this system, most of the arable land is occupied by row crops, and their repeated sowing is allowed. Bare fallows are not used, but intermediate crops are introduced instead. High-quality tillage, sufficient fertilizers, irrigation in arid areas and drainage in excessively humid areas, and erosion control are of great importance.

Cereal-row crop rotations are widespread, in which a smaller share of the arable land is allocated for row crops and a larger share for cereals. Cultivation of row crops with perennial grasses became the basis of grass-row crop rotations.

According to the classification of S.A. Vorobyov, V.I. Rumyantsev, and V.P. Narcissov, the following farming systems are used in Russia: cereal-fallow, cereal-row, cereal-fallow-row, cereal-grass, cereal-grass-row (fruit-changing), and row (industrial-plant). However, it should be taken into account that in different natural-economic zones of the country, these systems can be significantly modified.

Classification of existing farming systems, the development of the basic principles of these classifications is one of the tasks of agricultural science. According to V.I. Kiryushin (1996), the main criteria for modern classification of farming systems can be: totality of natural factors, main directions of crop production taking into account market demand, totality of production intensification factors, production methods and forms of land use, ecological restrictions.

The modern agricultural production is characterized by features:

  • investment in the industry of significant capital funds,
  • mechanization,
  • chemization,
  • amelioration,
  • use of highly productive varieties and hybrids,
  • improvement of forms of organization of production and labor remuneration.

The investment of significant capital investments in the industry is associated with the development of all related areas: machinery, digitalization, agrochemicals, technology, etc. What in general, should seek to improve the profitability of agricultural production.

“In fact, the very notion: “additional (or: successive) investments of labor and capital” implies a change in modes of production, a transformation of technology. To increase the amount of capital invested in the land to a considerable extent, it is necessary to invent new machines, new systems of farming, new ways of keeping cattle, transporting the product, etc., etc.”

V.I. Lenin

Soil-protective zonal farming systems, which include the principles of individual intensive farming systems adapted to specific natural and economic conditions, are being introduced at present. All links of such systems fully take into account and implement local soil-climatic, material-technical and labor resources.

Zonal farming systems

A large number of zones in Russia with different soil and climatic and economic conditions determines the diversity of applied forms of farming systems, taking into account the achievements of agronomic science.

Zonal farming systems must:

  • be soil-protective,
  • be based on scientific advances, technology and best practices,
  • be based on intensive technologies,
  • represent the agricultural complex,
  • provide a sustainable farming,
  • to create the maximum amount of high-quality crop production at minimum
  • labor and cost.

Reproduction of fertility is the most important indicator of zonal farming systems, based on normative-technological basis using calculation and balance methods of fertility and yields programming.

High and sustainable yields of cereals up to 4-5 t/ha, silage up to 40-60 t/ha and other crops are obtained by enterprises with the most fully developed farming system. Farming cannot be developed according to any one universal scheme. Each farm should annually improve the system of farming taking into account new challenges and opportunities in the directions of intensification, ecological, economic, soil-protection, and social efficiency.

Efficiency of farming system is evaluated by individual agrotechnical, reclamation, organizational and other measures included in its composition, of which the efficiency of the system as a whole is determined.

The main indicators of economic efficiency of the farming system:

  • level of productivity (amount of production in conventional units per 1 hectare of arable land),
  • cost level,
  • profitability of production,
  • labor productivity.

Alternative farming systems

Modern intensive farming systems, involving the active use of means of chemicalization and mechanization in the cultivation of crops, were called traditional. In the middle of XX century in the development of intensive systems came a new period, characterized by complete or partial rejection of the use of mineral fertilizers and chemical means of plant protection and increasing the importance of biological sources of plant nutrition, biological and mechanical methods of protection. These systems became known as alternative systems.

The main reason of this direction development is connected with sharp negative influence of intensive farming systems on soil, environment and products quality because of wide use of mineral fertilizers and chemical means of plants protection. In addition, the emergence of this direction was promoted by the limited non-renewable resources used in agriculture in increasing quantities, the volatility of markets for products and rising prices for machinery, fertilizers, pesticides and fuel.

Alternative farming systems have different names in different countries, but are not significantly different. In the United States and Canada, for example, an organic farming system is used, in which the production, processing and storage of crops occurs without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and growth regulators. Only materials consisting of substances of animal, plant and mineral origin are allowed to be used. Great importance is given to crop rotation, green crops, especially legumes, the use of crop residues and organic waste of non-agricultural origin. Depending on the conditions, tillage is reduced to a minimum and focuses on soil protection against erosion, and non-moldboard chisel and disk implements prevail.

In France, a biological farming system is used, which does not allow the use of chemical fertilizers, especially readily soluble ones. It is based on the use of organic fertilizers, which are often precomposted; techniques that increase the biological activity of the soil, neutralizing excessive acidity. Much attention is paid to reasonable crop rotation with a gentle saturation of some crops and the use of green crops.

Preventive measures, mechanical, biological and fire methods are used to control pests, pathogens and weeds.

Sweden, Switzerland and some other countries use organic-biological farming system based on creation of “living and healthy soil” by maintaining and activating the activity of soil microflora. Fields are vegetated as long as possible, crop residues are incorporated into the topsoil, crop rotation is saturated with legumes and legume-cereal crops, and only organic and some slow-soluble mineral fertilizers are used. Plant protection is similar to the biological farming system.

In Germany, Sweden, Denmark the biodynamic system is widespread. The basis of this system along with the principles common to all alternative systems, there are some differences: farming is conducted taking into account not only terrestrial (natural), but also cosmic rhythms; they use the influence of space forces on agricultural production, use special biodynamic preparations, such as “humus”, “silica”, “compost”, extracts, decoctions and products of plant fermentation.

All agronomic practices are recommended to be carried out in favorable periods, coordinated with the phases of the moon and the zodiacal cycle.

In a number of countries the ecological system is applied. It is based on limitation of pesticides application and flexible use of mineral fertilizers. It is allowed to use water-soluble forms, taking into account the mechanical composition of the soil.

All alternative farming systems are characterized by a common principle – reduction or complete rejection of mineral fertilizers and pesticides, transition to nutrients of plant origin, obtaining environmentally safe products of crop production.

The first studies of alternative farming systems in the world revealed their advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of these systems include high environmental friendliness, reduction of energy consumption and costs of exhaustible resources, improvement of product quality. The main disadvantage is the reduction of crop yields.

The use of alternative systems does not imply a return to low-yield farming systems, but the search for and improvement of technologies based on scientific knowledge, the laws of nature, and their optimal use.

Biologization, i.e. intensification of biological factors to reduce negative impact of anthropogenic factor of agriculture and at increase of its efficiency for maximum realization of potential productivity of crops and reproduction of soil fertility in accordance with ecological principles of nature management. It is the most important task of developing alternative farming systems.

The main factors of biological farming:

  • knowledge and rational use of the laws of nature;
  • reproduction of soil fertility, improvement of agronomic and biological properties, mainly by means of crop rotation;
  • use of highly productive varieties and hybrids adapted to specific soil-climatic conditions;
  • mastering of scientifically based crop rotations;
  • maximum efficient use of biological nitrogen in agrocenoses;
  • application of all types of organic fertilizers, increasing the share of sideration, limited use of mineral fertilizers, taking into account the optimization of plant nutrition;
  • ecological system of plant protection, application of biological methods and means;
  • differentiated system of tillage, taking into account the requirements of crops and soil-climatic conditions.

Alternative farming systems are built by solving a complex problem of environmental and economic conditions.


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