Crop Cultivation System

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Crop Cultivation System


a complex of interrelated technological, land-improvement, and organizational measures for land utilization and the restoration and improvement of soil fertility. In kolkhozes and sovkhozes the crop cultivation system includes several interrelated elements: organization of the land area and crop rotation, the soil tillage system, the fertilizer system, weed, pest, and disease control measures, seed growing, and measures against wind and water erosion. In some areas the crop cultivation system also includes irrigation, drainage, land improvement through the application of chemicals such as lime and gypsum, and shelterbelt afforestation.

History. Crop cultivation systems evolved under the influence of several factors: the social mode of production, natural conditions, and the development of agricultural techniques and agronomy. Their evolution has gone hand in hand with the intensification of crop cultivation in general. Four types of crop cultivation systems, from less intensive to more intensive, may be distinguished: primitive, extensive, transitional, and intensive.

Primitive crop cultivation systems are typical of early agriculture, which made use solely of natural soil fertility. Such systems included, in forested areas, the slash-and-burn and forest-clearing systems and, in steppe regions, the long-fallow and shifting systems.

In the slash-and-burn system the forest was burned or cut, and crops, for example, grains and flax, were planted for two to three years in the resulting burns and clearings. For the first few years the lands previously in forest brought rather high yields, but the soil was soon depleted and new ground had to be cleared. As free land grew scarce and as private ownership of land emerged, it became increasingly necessary to return to former plots. The slash-and-burn system gradually gave way to the forest-clearing system, in which abandoned land, again overgrown with forest, was again cleared, plowed, and sown.

In the long-fallow system, plots of virgin land were sown with valuable cereal grains, sometimes with oil flax or melons and gourds. Continuous growing of grain crops led to smaller harvests. Therefore, land that had been under cultivation for six to ten years was left in long fallow, and new plots of virgin land were brought under cultivation. As unoccupied virgin land grew scarce, the long-fallow system gradually gave way to the shifting system, in which a depleted, overgrown field (in Russian perelog) was left untilled for eight to 15 years in order to restore soil fertility. Then the overgrown field was again cleared for planting in cereal grains. The appearance of pure fallow as an element of the fallow system of crop cultivation is linked to the development of the shifting system. Shifting agriculture persisted in Europe until the 15th and 16th centuries, and in southern and southeastern Russia, where large gentry landholding was the rule, it persisted until the late 19th century.

Extensive crop cultivation systems made their appearance owing to the scarcity of free land, the small size of peasant land allotments, and the growing demand for commodity grain; hence, overgrown fields had to be put into production more often. When the fallow period shrank to only a single year, primitive crop cultivation systems gave way to a fallow-grain system, with a three-field crop rotation and a multiple field-grass system (in areas with highly developed stock raising). Land utilization improved, and soil fertility came to be controlled by such measures as tilling the fallow and planting perennial grasses. Extensive crop cultivation systems prevailed during the age of feudalism.

Transitional crop cultivation systems emerged as capitalism penetrated agricultural production. The fallow-grain system of crop cultivation was superseded by an improved grain system as perennial grasses or row crops were introduced into grain-fallow rotation. Larger quantities of organic fertilizers were used, and soil tillage improved. Arable land was used more productively. A variation of the improved grain system was the green-manure system, in which plants were sown in fallow fields in order to obtain green manure. The field crop rotation of the improved grain cultivation system in combination with the feed (meadow) rotation typical of the multiple field-grass system was the basis of the grass-field crop system developed by V. R. Vil’iams. Certain elements of this system—for example, grass-field crop rotation—are still in use.

Intensive crop cultivation systems, such as nonfallow systems, emerged in the mid-18th century in Western Europe. In the nonfallow system the economy devoted exclusively to the cultivation of grain gave way to more diversified agricultural production, with improved stock raising and the cultivation of industrial and feed crops. Soil fertility was maintained and improved by the alternation of crops, such as grains, legumes, and row crops, by the application of larger quantities of fertilizers, especially mineral fertilizers, and by careful soil tillage. The nonfallow system of crop cultivation came to prevail first in Great Britain and France, in the 18th century, and in Germany in the 19th century. A. Young of Great Britain, O. de Serres of France, and J. Schubart and A. Thaer of Germany were among its most eminent popularizers. In Russia the nonfallow system was advocated in the late 18th century by I. M. Komov and in the 19th century by M. G. Pavlov and A. V. Sovetov. Nonetheless, it was practiced only at certain gentry farms that grew sugar beets and potatoes commercially.

As commercial agriculture grew and became specialized under capitalist conditions, more intensive crop cultivation systems emerged: those in which all arable land was in commercial crops. One such system emphasized row crops for commercial production and made systematic use of fertilizers, irrigation, and scientific agricultural techniques. In prerevolutionary Russia this system was uncommon and in some areas passed over into the “free” system of crop cultivation. The choice of crops for cultivation depended on the demands of the market and the pursuit of profit. During this stage, the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production appeared with a special clarity: the extent and character of sown areas varied as market prices varied, and monoculture contradicted the laws of crop cultivation. Such problems hindered the restoration and improvement of soil fertility.

USSR. In the USSR, kolkhozes and sovkhozes employ various systems of crop cultivation, depending on natural and economic conditions and the state’s planning targets for the sale of agricultural output, targets that determine the specialization of production in agriculture. In the steppe and forest-steppe regions of Northern Kazakhstan and Siberia, the fallow-grain system of crop cultivation persists. In order to combat soil erosion, the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Grain Farming has developed a soil-protective fallow-grain system, which includes soil-protective tillage, strip seeding, snow retention, and a system of fertilization. In many regions of the USSR, particularly the flax-growing regions of the nonchernozem zone of the RSFSR, an improved grain system is used, in which forage grasses are sown. In the steppe zone of the Ukraine, the arid regions of the Northern Caucasus and the central chernozem oblasts, the Middle and Lower Volga regions, and to some extent Western Siberia and Northern Kazakhstan, an improved grain system is also used, in which row crops, such as sugar beets, sunflowers, and corn, are sown without forage grasses. Crop cultivation here is improved through better soil tillage and the application of larger quantities of fertilizers; an important element in this crop cultivation system is shelterbelt afforestation, which mitigates the effect of drought and dry winds and protects the soil against erosion. The nonfallow system is widespread in the nonchernozem zone, in the forest-steppe region, and in irrigated lands in the south; it may also be called the grain-grass-row crop system, because the crop rotations include grain crops, row crops, and leguminous grasses but do not include true fallow. Here, well-chosen crop rotations and the introduction of fertilizers are important means of improving soil fertility. In northwestern regions with excess moisture, drainage is important; in arid regions, irrigation and measures to protect the soil from water erosion are important. The row-crop (industrial) system of crop cultivation is used at farms that raise industrial row crops and feed row crops and at kolkhozes and sovkhozes that specialize in vegetables and potatoes. In this system, row crops occupy most of the cultivated land and are planted two years in succession and longer in crop rotations, for example, in row-crop, grass-row crop, and grain-row crop rotation. There is no true fallow in such cases, and part of the cultivated land is used two or three times a year for additional plantings. Such intensive land use requires special means to restore and improve soil fertility: the application of larger quantities of fertilizers, the planting of green manure, the use of irrigation or land drainage with installation of drainage networks, and other measures to protect the soil against secondary salinization and erosion stemming from irrigation. Because of the concentration and specialization of agricultural production, new agrarian-industrial systems of crop cultivation are appearing.

Abroad. Intensive crop cultivation systems are typical of the developed capitalist countries of Europe and America, with the exception of a few regions, such as the wheat lands of the USA and Canada. The nonfallow system, which predominated until the mid-20th century, has given way to specialized crop cultivation systems: for example, intensive grain systems without fallow but with a high level of mechanization and much use of agricultural chemicals; systems with feed crop rotations, that is, perennial grasses, corn, and green forage crops; and industrial crop systems, with cotton-alfalfa and other crop rotations. An extensive grain-fallow system prevails in the wheat lands of the USA and Canada. In the sparsely populated regions of Australia, multiple field-grass and long-fallow systems are common. Primitive crop cultivation systems exist side by side with highly intensive crop cultivation systems in the developing countries of Asia and Africa.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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