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agriculture, science and practice of producing crops and livestock from the natural resources of the earth. The primary aim of agriculture is to cause the land to produce more abundantly and at the same time to protect it from deterioration and misuse. The diverse branches of modern agriculture include agronomy, horticulture, economic entomology, animal husbandry, dairying, agricultural engineering, soil chemistry, and agricultural economics.

Early Agriculture

Early people depended for their survival on hunting, fishing, and food gathering. To this day, some groups still pursue this simple way of life, and others have continued as roving herders (see nomad). However, as various groups of people undertook deliberate cultivation of wild plants and domestication of wild animals, agriculture came into being. Cultivation of crops—notably grains such as wheat, rice, corn, rye, barley, and millet—encouraged settlement of stable farm communities, some of which grew to be towns and city-states in various parts of the world. Early agricultural implements—the digging stick, the hoe, the scythe, and the plow—developed slowly over the centuries, each innovation (e.g., the introduction of iron) causing profound changes in human life. From early times, too, people created ingenious systems of irrigation to control water supply, especially in semiarid areas and regions of periodic rainfall, e.g., the Middle East, the American Southwest and Mexico, the Nile Valley, and S Asia.

Farming was often intimately associated with landholding (see tenure) and therefore with political organization. Growth of large estates involved the use of slaves (see slavery) and bound or semifree labor. In the Western Middle Ages the manorial system was the typical organization of more or less isolated units and determined the nature of the agricultural village. In Asia large holdings by the nobles, partly arising from feudalism (especially in China and Japan), produced a similar pattern.

The Rise of Commercial Agriculture

As the Middle Ages waned, increasing communications, the commercial revolution, and the rise of cities in Western Europe tended to turn agriculture away from subsistence farming toward the growing of crops for sale outside the community (commercial agriculture). In Britain the practice of inclosure allowed landlords to set aside plots of land, formerly subject to common rights, for intensive cropping or fenced pasturage, leading to efficient production of single crops.

In the 16th and 17th cent. horticulture was greatly developed and contributed to the so-called agricultural revolution. Exploration and intercontinental trade, as well as scientific investigation, led to the development of horticultural knowledge of various crops and the exchange of farming methods and products, such as the potato, which was introduced from America along with beans and corn (maize) and became almost as common in N Europe as rice is in SE Asia.

The appearance of mechanical devices such as the sugar mill and Eli Whitney's cotton gin helped to support the system of large plantations based on a single crop. The Industrial Revolution after the late 18th cent. swelled the population of towns and cities and increasingly forced agriculture into greater integration with general economic and financial patterns. In the American colonies the independent, more or less self-sufficient family farm became the norm in the North, while the plantation, using slave labor, was dominant (although not universal) in the South. The free farm pushed westward with the frontier.

Modern Agriculture

In the N and W United States the era of mechanized agriculture began with the invention of such farm machines as the reaper, the cultivator, the thresher, and the combine. Other revolutionary innovations, e.g., the tractor, continued to appear over the years, leading to a new type of large-scale agriculture. Modern science has also revolutionized food processing; refrigeration, for example, has made possible the large meatpacking plants and shipment and packaging of perishable foods. Urbanization has fostered the specialties of market gardening and truck farming. Harvesting operations (see harvester) have been mechanized for almost every plant product grown. Breeding programs have developed highly specialized animal, plant, and poultry varieties, thus increasing production efficiency. The development of genetic engineering has given rise to genetically modified transgenic crops and, to a lesser degree, livestock that possess a gene from an unrelated species that confers a desired quality. Such modification allows livestock to be used as “factories” for the production of growth hormone and other substances (see pharming). In the United States and other leading food-producing nations agricultural colleges and government agencies attempt to increase output by disseminating knowledge of improved agricultural practices, by the release of new plant and animal types, and by continuous intensive research into basic and applied scientific principles relating to agricultural production and economics.

These changes have, of course, given new aspects to agricultural policies. In the United States and other developed nations, the family farm is disappearing, as industrialized farms, which are organized according to industrial management techniques, can more efficiently and economically adapt to new and ever-improving technology, specialization of crops, and the volatility of farm prices in a global economy. Niche farming, in which specialized crops are raised for a specialized market, e.g., heirloom tomatoes or exotic herbs sold to gourmet food shops and restaurants, revived or encouraged some smaller farms in the latter 20th and early 21st cents., but did little to stop the overall decrease in family farms. In Third World countries, where small farms, using rudimentary techniques, still predominate, the international market has had less effect on the internal economy and the supply of food.

Most of the governments of the world face their own type of farm problem, and the attempted solutions vary as much as does agriculture itself. The modern world includes areas where specialization and conservation have been highly refined, such as Denmark, as well as areas such as N Brazil and parts of Africa, where forest peoples employ “slash-and-burn” agriculture—cutting down and burning trees, exhausting the ash-enriched soil, and then moving to a new area. In other regions, notably SE Asia, dense population and very small holdings necessitate intensive cultivation, using people and animals but few machines; here the yield is low in relation to energy expenditure. In many countries extensive government programs control the planning, financing, and regulation of agriculture. Agriculture is still the occupation of almost 50% of the world's population, but the numbers vary from less than 3% in industrialized countries to over 60% in Third World countries.

See also agricultural subsidies; dry farming; Granger movement; Green Revolution; ranch; range.


See R. Jager, The Fate of Family Farming (2004).

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The art and science of crop and livestock production. In its broadest sense, agriculture comprises the entire range of technologies associated with the production of useful products from plants and animals, including soil cultivation, crop and livestock management, and the activities of processing and marketing. The term agribusiness has been coined to include all the technologies that mesh in the total inputs and outputs of the farming sector. In this light, agriculture encompasses the whole range of economic activities involved in manufacturing and distributing the industrial inputs used in farming; the farm production of crops, animals, and animal products; the processing of these materials into finished products; and the provision of products at a time and place demanded by consumers.

Many different factors influence the kind of agriculture practiced in a particular area. Among these are climate, soil, water availability, topography, nearness to markets, transportation facilities, land costs, and general economic level. Climate, soil, water availability, and topography vary widely throughout the world. This variation brings about a wide range in agricultural production enterprises. Certain areas tend toward a specialized agriculture, whereas other areas engage in a more diversified agriculture. As new technology is introduced and adopted, environmental factors are less important in influencing agricultural production patterns. Continued growth in the world's population makes critical the continuing ability of agriculture to provide needed food and fiber.

The primary agricultural products consist of crop plants for human food and animal feed and livestock products. The crop plants can be divided into 10 categories: grain crops (wheat, for flour to make bread, many bakery products, and breakfast cereals; rice, for food; maize, for livestock feed, syrup, meal, and oil; sorghum grain, for livestock feed; and oats, barley, and rye, for food and livestock feed); food grain legumes (beans, peas, lima beans, and cowpeas, for food; and peanuts, for food and oil); oil seed crops (soybeans, for oil and high-protein meal; and linseed, for oil and high-protein meal); root and tuber crops (principally potatoes and sweet potatoes); sugar crops (sugarbeets and sugarcane); fiber crops (principally cotton, for fiber to make textiles and for seed to produce oil and high-protein meal); tree and small fruits; nut crops; vegetables; and forages (for support of livestock pastures and range grazing lands and for hay and silage crops). The forages are dominated by a wide range of grasses and legumes, suited to different conditions of soil and climate.

Livestock products include cattle, for beef, tallow, and hides; dairy cattle, for milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, and other products; sheep, for mutton (lamb) and wool; pigs, for pork and lard; poultry (chiefly chickens but also turkeys and ducks) for meat and eggs; and horses, primarily for recreation.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


the cultivation of plants for food and raw materials (see also AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION). In a more restricted sense, however, agriculture is distinguished from HORTICULTURE.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the cultivation of crops and the raising of animals to obtain agricultural products; one of the most important branches of material production. Agriculture also includes the various processes through which plant and animal products are put during initial processing, unless the processes themselves form a separate and independent branch of industry. In some countries, forestry is regarded as a part of agriculture.

Agriculture produces foods for human consumption. It provides the raw materials for many branches of industry, including the food-processing, mixed-feed, textile, pharmaceutical, and perfume industries. It also produces animal tractive power, for example, through the raising of horses and deer. Agriculture includes the various branches of crop cultivation, such as the cultivation of field crops, the growing of fruits and vegetables, and viticulture. It also includes the various branches of animal husbandry, such as the raising of cattle, hogs, sheep, and poultry. In order to assure the rational use of both human and material resources, the various branches of agriculture must be properly integrated with one another.

In agriculture the land is the principal means of production. The land, in its varied forms and features, determines the specific forms of agricultural concentration and specialization and makes it incumbent on the agriculturist to use scientific systems of land cultivation to increase soil fertility. Because living organisms—plants and animals—are also used as means of agricultural production, both biological and economic laws affect the development of agriculture; similarly the production period does not coincide with the work period and labor and the means of production come into use seasonally. Since agricultural production is dispersed spatially, over wide areas, agricultural machinery is for the most part mobile rather than stationary. More than 20 percent of all agricultural production, such as seed, feed, and the young of domestic animals, is used as a means of production in the next production cycle. This explains the specific features that the formation of productive capital taxes on in agriculture and the fact that in agriculture the ratio of commodity output to total output is lower than in industry.

Throughout the world, 1,851 million people, or 51 percent of the earth’s total population, are engaged in agriculture. Some 4,480 million hectares (ha), or 33.4 percent of the earth’s total land area, are used for agriculture, including 1,457 million ha in plowland and perennial plantings and 3,005 million ha in hay-fields and pastureland (1973). As of Jan. 1, 1974, the world had 1,151 million head of cattle, 651 million hogs, and 1,430 million sheep and goats. In 1973, worldwide production of the basic agricultural products was 1,368 million tons of grain, 13 million tons of cotton fiber, 2,920 tons of potatoes, 108 million tons of meat, 415 million tons of milk, 22.5 million tons of eggs, and 2.6 million tons of wool.

Agriculture was one of man’s first economic activities. It emerged at the end of the Neolithic, when man began cultivating the soil with very simple tools and domesticating animals, of several species, to satisfy economic and other needs. Over the centuries, land cultivation systems evolved and improved in response to specific conditions. Animals were bred for useful traits, and many new breeds were developed.

Precapitalist social formations were distinguished by a subsistence agriculture, which was neither intensive nor productive. In feudal society, the subsistence agriculture of the peasant economy and the corvée-based agriculture of noble landholders assured at best simple reproduction; the products of agriculture were processed locally.

As capitalism took hold in agriculture—at the end of the 16th century in the Netherlands, in the mid-17th century in England, at the end of the 18th century in France, and in the mid-19th century in Germany and several other European countries—and as a capitalist commodity output based on a social division of labor grew, agriculture was integrated into a national economy; it supplied food to the rapidly growing population of the cities and raw materials to many branches of industry. In several European countries, especially Germany, capitalist agriculture emerged slowly, as feudal lords were gradually transformed into capitalist entrepreneurs (Junkers). In the USA, by contrast, capitalist relations in agriculture evolved along a different path. Unrestrained land grabbing during the period of colonization in the 19th century promoted the rapid growth of farms that were unhindered by precapitalist forms of exploitation. Thus, V. I. Lenin distinguished two types of capitalist development in agriculture—Prussian and American.

In Russia, capitalist agriculture took the Prussian path; the Peasant Reform of 1861 abolished serfdom and laid the foundation for capitalist formations. However, vestiges of serfdom persisted until the October Revolution of 1917, greatly inhibiting the development of agriculture.

Prerevolutionary Russia. Before 1917, Russian agriculture was marked by small-scale production, low productivity, and outworn organizational forms. Total available power amounted to 23.9 million hp; of this, mechanical power amounted to 0.2 million hp, or less than 1 percent. The power available per worker on peasant farms did not exceed 0.5 hp (1913–17), and the energy supply amounted to 20 hp per 100 ha of crops. In 1913 only 1 million kilowatt-hours (kW-hr) of electricity were consumed in agriculture, chiefly by the estates of pomeshchiki (gentry landowners). No more than 1.5 kg of mineral fertilizers, mostly imported, were used per hectare of crops (1913), only on the farms of pomeshchiki and kulaks. There was no tractor industry; agricultural machines were made in small craftsmen’s workshops and manufactories, and some agricultural equipment was purchased abroad. The land was usually cultivated with primitive implements, mostly sokhi (Russian wooden plows), wooden harrows, and horse-drawn plows; grain was harvested mostly by hand, with a scythe and sickle, and threshed with flails.

Despite the vast expanses of land in prerevolutionary Russia, millions of peasants had little or no land at all. In 1913 pomeshchiki, the crown, and monasteries held 152.5 million ha of land, or 42 percent of the country’s total land area. Peasants held 214.7 million ha, or 58 percent of the land area. Of peasant land, kulaks held more than 80 million ha, or about 37 percent, and middle and poor peasants about 135 million ha. Of about 20 million peasant farms, 65 percent belonged to poor peasants, 20 percent to middle peasants, and 15 percent to kulaks. Almost 30 percent of the peasant households had no draft animals, 34 percent no large implements, and 15 percent no crops under cultivation. Most of the country’s sown area, more than 88 percent, was in grains and legumes. The pomeshchiki and kulaks produced 50 percent of the grains and about 75 percent of all marketable grain; here, the ratio of commodity output to total output was 47 percent. The poor and middle peasants produced the other 50 percent of the grain but had a low ratio of commodity output to total output—14.7 percent. Grain yields averaged about 7 quintals per ha between 1909 and 1913; the average annual milk production per cow did not exceed 1,000 kg. Agriculture was in need of fundamental socioeconomic change.

The agrarian question in Russia was resolved by the Great October Socialist Revolution, which nationalized the land and created conditions for the socialist transformation of agriculture.

USSR. In the Soviet Union, agriculture is a major, mechanized branch of the national economy. Its share in the gross social product is second only to that of industry. Agriculture generates about 30 percent of the national income and 75 percent of the social consumption fund. Some 25 percent of the population works in agriculture.

There are two production sectors in Soviet agriculture. One is the state sector, which includes sovkhozes, stud farms, farms for producing purebred stock, poultry farms, training and test farms, experimental farms, and the like. The other sector is the cooperative sector, which includes kolkhozes, interkolkhoz enterprises, and interkolkhoz associations. The auxiliary plots and allotments of land held by workers, office workers, and kolkhoz members also account for some agricultural products, such as potatoes, vegetables, and animal products, which are used primarily for personal consumption.

Table 1. Share of the total output of the basic agricultural products in the USSR by kolkhozes, sovkhozes, and other farms (percent)
Grains ...............88989999
Raw cotton ............100100100100
Sugar beets (to be processed) ............94100100100
Sunflower seeds.........89989898
Vegetables ............52596267
Meat ................28606568
Eggs (units)............6334759
Wool ................61808180

At the end of 1974, 17,700 sovkhozes and 30,000 kolkhozes in the Soviet Union accounted for most of the country’s agricultural production (Table 1). Of the total output of basic agricultural products purchased by the state, these enterprises supplied 100 percent of the grain, raw cotton, sugar beets, and sunflower seeds; 82 percent of the potatoes; 94 percent of the vegetables; 87 percent of the livestock and poultry; 95 percent of the milk; 93 percent of the eggs; and 84 percent of the wool. As of Nov. 1, 1974, 551.5 million ha of agricultural land, including 225.3 million ha of plowland, 38.3 million ha of hayfields, and 281.8 million ha of pastureland, were used by agricultural enterprises and farms.

In 1974, out of a sown area of 216.5 million ha, 127.2 million ha were in grain crops, 14.7 million ha in industrial crops, 10.2 million ha in potatoes and other vegetables, melons, and gourds, and 64.4 million ha in feed crops. As of Jan. 1, 1975, all agricultural production units of all categories had 109.1 million head of cattle, including 41.9 million cows, 72.3 million hogs, and 151.2 million sheep and goats. The USSR leads the world in the production of wheat, rye, barley, sugar beets, potatoes, sunflowers, cotton fiber, flax fiber, milk, and butter. It is second in total volume of agricultural production, second in the production of vegetable oil (after the USA) and wool (after Australia), and second in the number of hogs (after the People’s Republic of China). It is third in the number of cattle (after India and the USA) and in grain harvests (after the USA and the People’s Republic of China). The Soviet Union is a major exporter and importer of agricultural products. It exports grain, cotton, butter, vegetable oil, wool, and tea. It imports vegetables and fruits, both fresh and processed, as well as sugar, eggs, and meat products.

HISTORY. Soviet agriculture has developed in complex historical and economic conditions. The Decree on Land in 1917 brought an end to pomeshchik landholding, but neither it nor the allotment of land to landless and land-poor peasants eliminated the reasons behind the low productivity of small peasant households. During World War I and the Civil War of 1918–20 agriculture suffered ruin and neglect. Individual peasant households that used primitive technology and that produced little marketable surplus could not satisfy the state’s growing need for grain, notwithstanding such economic measures as the New Economic Policy and tax in kind. The Fifteenth Party Congress, in December 1927, decided on all-out collectivization of agriculture. As the Cooperative Plan of V. I. Lenin had envisaged, the party and the Soviet government directed the transformation of the Soviet village into a significant socialist production unit. The process was completed in the 1930’s.

In 1940 the Soviet Union had 236,900 kolkhozes, 4,200 sovkhozes, and 7,100 machine and tractor stations. Total agricultural production had risen 41 percent over that of 1913. The fixed productive capital of agricultural enterprises increased more than ten times between 1928 and 1940, and crop yields, gross harvests, and the productivity of animal husbandry increased substantially.

During World War II the fascist German troops inflicted hundreds of billions of rubles worth of losses on agriculture. In occupied areas, 98,000 kolkhozes, 2,890 machine and tractor stations, and 1,876 sovkhozes were destroyed, and 17 million head of cattle, 20 million hogs, and 27 million sheep were killed. Agricultural production declined sharply.

After the war, the kolkhozes and sovkhozes were renovated and reequipped, on a wider scale than before. Destroyed tractor plants were rebuilt, and new ones were built; between 1945 and 1950 they produced 536,000 tractors (15-hp units). The agricultural machine industry supplied the machine and tractor stations and sovkhozes with 93,000 combines, more than 250,000 tractor-drawn seeders, and hundreds of thousands of other agricultural machines and implements. By 1950, the losses inflicted by the enemy had largely been made up. However, a number of problems, including the problem of grain production, remained unsolved. The area sown in grain crops had not yet reached the prewar level, and average grain yields did not exceed 9 quintals per ha.

In 1953 the September Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU took measures to improve the planning of agricultural production and to give a larger role to science in agricultural development. In 1954 the February-March Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU resolved to boost the production of grain and other agricultural products by opening up virgin and long-unused lands. This was one of the most important steps in the struggle to improve Soviet agriculture. Within three years, more than 32 million ha of virgin land had come under the plow. Between 1953 and 1956 total grain harvests for the country rose from 82.5 to 125 million tons, and grain purchases from 31 to 54 million tons. Although advances in grain production and distribution and certain economic improvements had positive results, agriculture still did not satisfy the state’s needs for a whole series of important agricultural products.

A qualitatively new stage in the development of agriculture followed the March Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU in 1965. The plenum outlined several urgent political and economic measures for boosting agricultural production: it introduced fixed plans for the state’s purchase of agricultural products for a period of several years, set new and economically rational purchase prices, and initiated grain purchases in excess of plan at higher prices. The plenum envisaged a successive intensification of agriculture based on comprehensive mechanization, the use of agricultural chemicals, and land improvement. It also called for an improvement in the system of khozraschet (economic accounting) and credit relations and for other measures to strengthen the kolkhozes and sovkhozes.

The historical significance of the March Plenum is that it set forth the main directions of the party’s agrarian policy: to create and improve the system of economic relations, a system that provides material incentives for kolkhozes, sovkhozes, and all agricultural workers to increase agricultural production; to strengthen agriculture’s material and technical base and to transform agricultural labor according to the practices prevailing in industry; to give a greater role to scientific institutions, scholars, and specialists, with the goal of applying scientific and technological achievements to agriculture as quickly as possible; and to improve both the organization of agricultural production and the management of agriculture.

The ideas of the March Plenum were elaborated in the decrees of the May (1966), October (1968), and July (1970) plenums of the Central Committee of the CPSU and in the decisions of the Twenty-third (1966), Twenty-fourth (1971), and Twenty-fifth (1976) Party Congresses. One of the best examples of the implementation of these ideas is the program for agricultural development in the RSFSR’s nonchernozem zone, a program carried out in accordance with the March 1974 decree of the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR. The RSFSR’s nonchernozem zone has a population of 59 million, of whom 15 million live in villages; this represents 15 percent of the Soviet Union’s entire rural population. The area has 5,420 kolkhozes and 4,331 sovkhozes (1974) on 52 million ha of agricultural land of all categories, including about 32 million ha of plowland (Nov. 1, 1974). The Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR declared it a major objective of the state to achieve a high rate of growth in the zone’s agricultural production through the intensification of agriculture. Accordingly, large capital investments were made in land improvement, highway construction (more than 25,000 km of roads), various facilities, such as livestock complexes for various purposes, agricultural buildings and installations, residential buildings, and cultural and service facilities.

Increased production and a higher volume of state purchases are testimony to the effectiveness of the party’s current agrarian policy (Tables 2–4). In the period 1971–74 agricultural production averaged 91.4 billion rubles per year (1965 rubles), as opposed to 66.3 billion rubles in the period 1961–65 and 80.5 billion rubles in the period 1966–70. Total agricultural production

Table 2. Output of agricultural products in the USSR for all categories of farms
1 1965
Total production (billion rubles1) ..........39.639.363.070.987.095.2
 Grains (million tons).........95.681.2125.5121.1186.8195.7
 Raw cotton (million tons) .............
 Sugar beets, processed (million tons)......18.020.857.772.378.977.9
 Sunflower seeds (million tons) ..........
 Flax fiber (thousand tons) .............349.0255.0425.0480.0456.0409.0
 Potatoes (million tons) ...............76.188.684.488.796.881.0
 Vegetables (million tons) .............13.79.316.617.621.224.8
 Meat (million tons, slaughter weight.......
 Milk (million tons) ..................33.635.361.772.683.091.8
 Eggs (billion units) .................12.211.727.429.140.755.5
 Wool (thousand tons)................161.0180.0357.0357.0419.0461.0
Table 3. State purchases of basic agricultural products in the USSR from all categories of farms
Grains (million tons)...................36.432.346.636.373.373.3
Raw cotton (million tons)................
Sugar beets (million tons) ...............17.419.752.267.571.467.5
Sunflower seeds (million tons) ............
Flax fiber (thousand tons) ...............245.2174.4369.0432.6431.4364.1
Potatoes (million tons) .................
Vegetables (million tons)................
Cattle and poultry (liveweight, million tons).....
Milk and dairy products in milk equivalent (million tons) ......................6.58.526.338.745.755.8
Eggs (billion units)....................
Wool (thousand tons) ..................120.0136.0358.0368.0441.0461.0

increased by a factor of 2.4 between 1940 and 1974 and by a factor of 1.3 between 1965 and 1974. The average annual increase in agricultural production was 2.3 percent between 1961 and 1965 but 3.9 percent between 1966 and 1970. This increase was achieved primarily by increasing yields (Table 5), which in turn was based on integrated utilization of the factors involved in the intensification of agriculture.

Improvements in animal husbandry resulted from several factors. First, the supply of feed resources was increased. Second, the number of farm animals increased: between 1941 and 1975 the number of cattle almost doubled, hogs increased by a factor of 2.6 and sheep and goats by a factor of 1.6. Third, the productivity of farm animals (Table 6) was increased: feed and maintenance were improved, and purebred stock was introduced in larger numbers (the percentage of purebred cattle exceeded 95 percent in 1974). The consumption of feed per head of cattle rose from 22.5 to 26.3 quintals between 1965 and 1974, and the use of new and better feeds—haylage, grass meal, granules, pelleted feed, and other standard feeds—also increased. The facilities brought into operation over the period 1966–73 have the capacity for 32.1 million head of cattle, 33 million hogs, and 53.3 million sheep; newly constructed poultry farms specializing in the production of eggs and meat can hold 51 million layers and 130.1 million broilers, respectively.

The economy of the kolkhozes and sovkhozes has substantially improved. Between 1965 and 1974 the indivisible assets of the kolkhozes rose (for a comparable group of farms) from 38.7 to 86.0 billion rubles, the gross income increased from 16.4 to 24 billion rubles, and the remuneration per man-day rose from 2.68 to 4.55 rubles. In 1966 guaranteed remuneration of labor was introduced for kolkhoz members. The profitability of state agricultural enterprises has increased substantially. The sovkhozes made a profit of 8.6 billion rubles in the period 1966–70 and almost the same profit in three years of the ninth five-year plan (1971–73). The wages of sovkhoz workers increased by a factor of 1.8 in the period 1965–74. Fringe benefits received by agricultural workers from the social consumption fund also increased.

The village and its culture and way of life were transformed. A larger number of comfortable homes appeared in the rural localities, and more and more community facilities as well. The social structure of the rural population was profoundly changed: the percentage of industrial-type workers increased, many of the old occupations disappeared, and new professions and specialities emerged. As all these developments attest, the city and village became more alike in all aspects of social and economic life.

LOCATION AND SPECIALIZATION OF AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION. Certain kinds of agricultural production are located in regions whose natural and economic conditions best suit them. Grain is grown in the RSFSR, especially in the Volga Region, the Northern Caucasus, the Central Chernozem Zone, the Urals, and Western and Eastern Siberia; it is also grown in the Ukrainian and Kazakh SSR’s. Cotton is grown in the Middle Asian republics, chiefly the Uzbek SSR. Flax is grown in the Central, Northwestern, and Volga-Viatka economic regions of the RSFSR, the Byelorussian SSR, the southwestern part of the Ukrainian SSR, some parts of the Urals, and Western and Eastern Siberia. Sugar beets are grown in the Ukrainian SSR, the Northern Caucasus, and the Central Chernozem Zone of the RSFSR. Sunflowers are grown in the Ukrainian SSR, the Moldavian SSR, the Northern Caucasus, and the Central Chernozem Zone of the RSFSR. Potatoes are grown in the nonchernozem zone of the RSFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR, the Baltic republics, and parts of the Urals and in Siberia and the Soviet Far East. Truck farming is concentrated around the large industrial centers of the Ukraine, the central RSFSR, and the Northern Caucasus. Viticulture is well developed in the southern parts of the Ukrainian SSR and in the Northern Caucasus, the Transcaucasian republics, the Moldavian SSR, the southern RSFSR, and the Middle Asian republics. Tea is grown in the Georgian SSR, the Azerbaijan SSR, and Krasnodar Krai.

Dairy farming is concentrated in the nonchernozem zone of the RSFSR, Western Siberia, the Baltic republics, the Ukrainian SSR, and the Byelorussian SSR, as well as around large cities and industrial centers throughout the USSR. Cattle are raised for dairying and some meat production in parts of Western and Eastern Siberia, in the Soviet Far East, in Transcaucasia, and in the Volga-Viatka, northwestern, and most of the central regions of the RSFSR. Cattle is raised for meat and some dairy products in the Kazakh SSR, the Kirghiz SSR, the Southern Urals, Eastern and Western Siberia, the Soviet Far East, the Northern Caucasus (Stavropol’ Krai), Rostov Oblast, and Transcaucasia. Beef cattle are raised in the Kazakh SSR, some parts of Middle Asia, the Trans-Volga Region (Orenburg Oblast and the left-bank regions of Saratov and Volgograd oblasts), the Caspian steppe region (Astrakhan Oblast, Kalmyk ASSR), the mountain regions of Transcaucasia, and elsewhere. Hog populations are densest in the Baltic republics, the Moldavian SSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR, the Central Chernozem Zone, the Northern Caucasus, and the nonchernozem zone of the RSFSR. Large numbers of hogs are fattened on special farms close to large cities and industrial centers. Sheep are raised in the Kazakh SSR, the Middle Asian republics, the Volga Region, the Northern Caucasus, and Western and Eastern Siberia. Poultry husbandry is concentrated in the RSFSR and the Ukrainian SSR.

Table 4. Per capita output of the basic agricultural products in the USSR (kg)
Grains and legumes ............525769891
Potatoes .........384399433
Vegetables ........7687104
Fruits, berries, grapes ...........354853
Meat and lard (slaughter weight).....435154
Eggs (units)..................124165201

With advances in science and technology, agricultural production has become more specialized and concentrated, and cooperation between agricultural enterprises has become more common. The creation of specialized state, kolkhoz, and interfarm

Table 5. Yields of basic crops in the USSR (quintals per ha)
Grains ......................................8.610.99.515.615.4
 Winter wheat..................................
 Grain corn ...................................13.819.325.228.030.5
 Rice .......................................17.319.726.936.538.7
Raw cotton ...................................10.819.623.225.129.2
Sugar beets...................................146191188211216
Flax fiber.....................................
Sunflower seeds................................7.49.411.112.814.4
Vegetables ...................................91.0111123138145

enterprises, such as poultry farms and animal-breeding complexes, permits the full utilization of the achievements of modern science and technology and the industrialization of agriculture. Interfarm cooperation has made considerable gains since the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The effectiveness of such cooperation is evident in specialized interfarm enterprises for the processing of agricultural products and for the fattening of cattle; these enterprises show a labor productivity two to three times higher and production costs one and one-half to two times lower than in kolkhozes and sovkhozes. In 1974 there were 5,733 interfarm enterprises and associations of various kinds. Interfarm cooperation was most widespread in the Moldavian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR, the Ukrainian SSR, and several oblasts of the RSFSR.

More specialization and more extensive interfarm ties have led to even higher forms of cooperation, to the union of kolkhozes and sovkhozes with state industrial enterprises, and to the creation of agrarian and industrial enterprises and conglomerates. In 1974 there were about 700 agrarian and industrial conglomerates of various kinds, primarily in the Moldavian SSR, the Ukrainian SSR, Krasnodar Krai, and Rostov and other oblasts of the RSFSR.

Such qualitatively new forms of social production based on interenterprise cooperation are improving production relations and are bringing state ownership and cooperative-kolkhoz ownership closer toward eventual merger. They are changing the nature of agricultural work, turning it into a type of industrial work. They have had a profound effect on the solution of social problems in the village and are making it possible someday to eliminate the major differences between city and village.

MATERIAL AND TECHNICAL BASIS FOR AGRICULTURE. Between 1965 and 1974 the state and the kolkhozes invested 195 billion rubles in agriculture, or 2.8 times more than in the preceding ten years. The fixed production assets of state agricultural enterprises and kolkhozes increased by a factor of 2.2 in the same period (by a factor of 10.6 since 1940). There were qualitative changes in the structure of these assets; namely, active means of production, such as power-supply and working machines and equipment and mechanized means of transportation, assumed relatively more importance.

The total motive power available to agriculture rose from 47.5 million hp in 1940 to 425.1 million hp in 1974, or from 1.5 to 15.3 hp per worker and from 32 to 178 hp per 100 ha of sown area. The power available for agriculture increased by a factor of 2.2 between 1965 and 1974. The machine and tractor fleet of the kolkhozes and sovkhozes grew in both numbers and quality. In 1974 there were 2,267,000 tractors, 673,000 grain harvesters, and 1,336,000 trucks, compared to 531,000 tractors, 182,000 grain harvesters, and 228,000 trucks in 1940. The total power of the tractor engines was 144.5 million hp (17.6 million hp in 1940). The number of tractors increased by a factor 1.4 between 1965 and 1974, and their combined power, by a factor of 1.8. In 1974 alone, 347,400 tractors and 212,300 trucks were supplied to the agricultural sector. The consumption of electricity in agriculture grew from 0.5 billion kW-hr in 1940 to 64.5 billion kW-hr in 1974. All kolkhozes and sovkhozes have electricity.

The main types of field work, such as plowing, the sowing of grains and industrial crops, and the harvesting of grains and silage crops, are now fully mechanized. The work involved in growing sugar beets, cotton, and corn and in cleaning grain and removing it from threshing floors is almost fully mechanized. In 1974 the mowing of hay was 93 percent mechanized, the loading of fertilizers 92 percent mechanized, the digging of potatoes 89 percent mechanized, the stacking of hay 89 percent mechanized, and the harvesting of sugar beets 76 percent mechanized. The milking of cows was 74 percent mechanized, the supplying of water at hog farms was 91 percent mechanized and at cattle farms 78 percent mechanized, the supplying of feeds at hog farms was 48 percent mechanized and at cattle farms 24 percent mechanized, and sheepshearing was 89 percent mechanized (all percentages are in terms of the number of animals or the volume of work required).

Apart from the complexities of comprehensive agricultural mechanization, various measures are being taken to increase soil fertility. As called for in the land reclamation program outlined in 1966 by the May Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, irrigation projects are under way in the Middle Asian republics, Transcaucasia, the RSFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Kazakh SSR, and the Moldavian SSR. Land improvement projects are under way in the nonchernozem zone of the RSFSR, the Byelorussian SSR, the Baltic republics, the western oblasts and Poles’e in the Ukraine, and the Soviet Far East. Between 1965 and 1974 the area of irrigated land increased from 9.9 to 13.7 million ha, and that of drained land from 10.6 to 12.8 million ha. In 1974 agricultural production from irrigated land accounted for more than 21 percent of all agricultural production. All large land reclamation projects are funded by the state. State capital investments in land reclamation grew from 5.7 billion rubles in the period 1961–65 to 27 billion rubles in the period 1971–75.

A program for the broader use of agricultural chemicals is also under way. It calls for adequate supplies of mineral fertilizers, chemical soil treatments, pesticides, and feed additives for livestock. The production and use of agricultural chemicals is growing rapidly. Deliveries of mineral fertilizers increased from 2,623,000 tons (100 percent nutrient equivalent) in 1960 to 14,974,000 tons in 1974.

Owing to more intensive methods of agriculture and more extensive use of technology, the growth rate of labor productivity in Soviet agriculture has not only equaled the growth rate in Soviet

Table 6. Productivity of farm animals in the USSR
Average annual milk production per cow (kg) ........1,1851,7791,8532,1102,242
Average annual wool production per sheep (kg) ............
Average egg production per hen (units)..................85132166194

industry but has even exceeded it. In the period of the eighth five-year plan (1966–70), labor productivity in agriculture grew more rapidly than in industry, where the average annual increase was 5.8 percent. Namely, labor productivity in agriculture grew at an average annual rate of 6.5 percent in kolkhozes and sovkhozes (3.4 percent in the period 1961–65). In 1974 it was 1.6 and 3.8 times higher than it had been in 1965 and 1940, respectively.

In 1974 agriculture could call on the skills of 3.8 million mechanics and machine operators, compared to 1.4 million in 1940 and 3.1 million in 1965. Similarly, in 1973 it could call on the expertise of 1,037,000 agricultural specialists—graduates of higher educational institutions and specialized secondary schools—compared to 50,000 in 1940 and 557,000 in 1965. Agricultural scientific research institutes are working on current problems in agriculture. Active cooperation between agricultural science and production has greatly increased the value of research work. New high-yield crop varieties and hybrids have been developed and introduced; modern technology has been developed and is now in use. The comprehensive approach to the problem of increasing agricultural efficiency has created favorable conditions for the growth of agriculture’s productive forces and the improvement of production relations.


Foreign socialist countries. Agrarian transformations in foreign socialist countries followed the basic principles of Lenin’s cooperative plan. The specific social and economic conditions in each country determined the specific rates, forms, and directions of the socialist transformations in agriculture.

In the socialist countries of Europe, agriculture was reorganized in a comparatively short time, from the end of the 1940’s to the beginning of the 1960’s. As a result of democratic land reforms and the introduction of cooperative production among the peasantry, socialist agricultural production assumed major dimensions, coming to dominate agriculture in most countries (Table 7). The socialist sector included state agricultural enterprises, or state farms, which were organized much like the sovkhozes in the USSR; it also included the agricultural producers’ cooperatives, which were based on voluntary participation

Table 7. Share of the socialist sector in the agriculture of the European socialist countries (1973, percent)
 Total agricultural landTotal agricultural production
*In marketable production
Bulgaria ..................99.799.8
Czechoslovakia .............91.695.4
GDR ....................94.492.7
Poland ...................19.316.0
Yugoslavia ................14.945*

and which exhibited varying degrees of socialization of the means of production and various methods of distributing income. The private sector consists of individual farms run by their owners without the use of hired labor; the private sector is predominant in Poland and Yugoslavia.

Agriculture in the socialist countries has increasingly adopted intensive methods of production. This effort has been undertaken, in part, to overcome the area’s limited land resources and relative dearth of land; in 1973, Bulgaria had 0.69 ha of agricultural land per person, Hungary 0.65 ha, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) 0.37 ha, Poland 0.57 ha, Rumania 0.71 ha, Czechoslovakia 0.48 ha, and Yugoslavia 0.69 ha. This effort has been essential to achieving a significant and steady increase in agricultural production. Between 1950 and 1973 the gross agricultural production of the European socialist countries more than doubled, and its rate of growth exceeded the world average rate of growth. Efforts to intensify agriculture have been successful primarily because of increased capital investment in agriculture and forestry (Table 8), mostly in mechanization, electrification, the use of agricultural chemicals, and land reclamation.

In 1973, for every 100 ha of plowland, Bulgaria had 3.4 tractors (15-hp units), Hungary 2.3, the GDR more than 5, Poland 2.8, and Czechoslovakia 5.0. In most countries, plowing and planting are completely mechanized, and 85 to 100 percent of the grains and approximately 50 percent of the row crops (by area harvested) are harvested by combines. Between 1961 and 1973 the consumption of electricity increased from 38 to 251 kW-hr per ha of plowland in Bulgaria, from 15 to 282 kW-hr in Hungary, from 278 to 604 kW-hr in the GDR, and from 89 to 419 kW-hr in Czechoslovakia.

Between 1960 and 1973 the use of mineral fertilizers per ha of agricultural land increased from 28 to 106 kg (active agent) in Bulgaria, from 23 to 176 kg in Hungary, from 148 to 279 kg in the GDR, from 36 to 158 kg in Poland, from 6 to 58 kg in Rumania, from 70 to 201 kg in Czechoslovakia, and from 27 to 71 kg in Yugoslavia.

Land reclamation has become an effective means of intensifying agriculture in the socialist countries. It plays an important role in boosting agricultural production in almost every such country, especially Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Albania, where about 45 percent of all crop production comes from irrigated land. In the early 1970’s, more than 20 percent of the agricultural land in these socialist countries had been reclaimed.

Measures to intensify agriculture have also helped boost crop and animal productivity. Between 1960 and 1973 grain and legume yields rose from 19 to 34 quintals per ha in Bulgaria, from 19.6 to 35.5 quintals in Hungary, from 26.9 to 35.3 in the GDR, from 15.9 to 26.2 in Poland, from 13.8 to 23.5 in Rumania, from 22.7 to 34.7 in Czechoslovakia, and from 23.8 to 29.7 in Yugoslavia. The yields of other crops also rose. In the same period, milk production per cow increased from 1,444 to 2,248 kg in Bulgaria, from 1,863 to 2,322 kg in Hungary, from 2,669 to 3,398 kg in the GDR, from 2,122 to 2,689 kg in Poland, from 1,368 to 1,689 kg in Rumania, from 1,862 to 2,867 kg in Czechoslovakia, and from 1,125 to 1,235 kg in Yugoslavia. Table 9 gives per capita data on the principal agricultural products in some European socialist countries.

The intensification of agriculture in the socialist countries has now entered a qualitatively new stage—the industrialization of the main branches of agriculture. In the mid-1960’s large automated poultry farms came into production in Hungary, the GDR, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Hog-fattening complexes capable of handling 30,000 to 108,000 hogs per year

Table 8. Growth of capital investment in agriculture and forestry of the European socialist countries (million units of national currency)
Bulgaria (levs) ..............................405391559664
Czechoslovakia (crowns) .......................9,7548,9129,75713,275
GDR (marks) ...............................1,9292,7684,3484,380
Hungary (forints).............................6,0127,04618,75516,722
Poland (złotys) ..............................14,00825,24337,14253,481
Yugoslavia1 (dinars)...........................1,0691,5842,5153,051

came into production in Hungary, the GDR, Poland, Rumania, and Yugoslavia. Cattle-fattening complexes capable of handling 10,000 to 12,000 head came into production in Hungary, the GDR, and Poland. Large dairy farms, with as many as 2,000 cows, were built in the GDR. The shift to industrial methods of production has encouraged the active development of interfarm relations and the integration of agriculture with other branches of the national economy. Various types of interfarm enterprises and agrarian and industrial conglomerates, such as agrarian and industrial complexes in Poland, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria and cooperative unions in the GDR, are now in full operation.

Socialist agriculture is developing under conditions of international socialist division of labor and economic integration of the world’s socialist countries. The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) has payed a major role in fostering international ties in the production and marketing of agricultural products. The council’s 25th meeting, in 1971, adopted the Comprehensive Program for the Further Intensification and Promotion of Cooperation and Development of Socialist Economic Integration Among the Members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. The Comprehensive Program specifies measures for the advancement of the socialist system of agriculture.


DEVELOPED CAPITALIST COUNTRIES. In the postwar period agriculture in the economically developed capitalist countries has been distinguished by the practical application of the achievements of the scientific and technological revolution and by the introduction of industrial methods, which in effect has meant concentration of the units of production. In agriculture, active concentration of production is now under way, accompanied by a large-scale disappearance of small and medium-sized farms, by a relative decrease in the rural population, and by the growing dominance of monopoly capital and growing state-monopolistic control of agriculture.

The small and medium producer is being displaced especially rapidly in the USA, where between 1960 and 1973 the number of farms declined from 3,963,000 to 2,830,000. The tendency toward more rapid concentration of agricultural production can be seen in the fact that large commercial farms now account for a predominant and ever-increasing share of marketable production. Farms with sales of at least $20,000 now make up about 25 percent of all farms and account for more than 80 percent of all marketable production. Small farms, which make up about 60 percent of all farms, account for only 4.8 percent of marketable production.

The displacement of small farmers and peasants from the land and the monopolies’ infringement of the workers’ basic rights have encountered resistance from many peasants and farmers. Peasant demonstrations have been largest and best organized in Western Europe, chiefly in the countries of the European Economic Community, where “structural reforms” aimed at eliminating the small peasant sector are being carried out.

The transformation of farms into large-scale units has gone hand in hand with accelerated intensification of agriculture. The use of mineral fertilizers in the developed capitalist countries increased, on the average, from 9.8 million tons (active agent) in the period 1958–62 to 36.9 million tons in 1970–71. The number of tractors increased in the period 1960–71 from 5.1 to 11.4 million. There are 34 tractors per 1,000 ha of plow-land in the USA, 62 tractors in Great Britain, 76 in France, and 183 in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Tractor building has tended primarily toward the production of models with more than 100 hp. Such models accounted for 2.3 percent of all tractors acquired by US farmers in 1965 and for about 30 percent in 1972. The extensive land areas well suited to agriculture —the developed capitalist countries possess about 30 percent of the world’s agricultural land—the growing intensification of crop cultivation, and the resulting high yields assure large harvests, especially of grain. The average grain yield, 15.4 quintals per ha before the war, rose to 29.3 quintals per ha in the early 1970’s. In some countries, the grain yield significantly exceeds the average. In 1973, for example, it was 36.6 quintals per ha in the USA, 40.0 quintals per ha in the FRG, 40.6 quintals in Great Britain, 43.4 quintals in France, 45.0 quintals in the Netherlands, and 55.2 quintals in Japan.

The productivity of livestock has increased substantially as a result of intensification. In 1973 the average milk production per cow was 4,659 kg in the USA, 4,520 kg in the Netherlands, 4,199 kg in Sweden, 4,191 kg in Denmark, 4,057 kg in Great Britain, 3,909 kg in the FRG, and 3,445 kg in France.

At the same time, the production of labor-intensive crops, for example, rice, sugar beets, and cotton fiber (Table 10), is tending to decrease. Similarly, the average annual growth rates for agricultural production are tending to fall. These tendencies are due in large part to the insolvency and inefficiency of many farms, which are unable themselves to finance expanded production. The growth of capital investment in agriculture has gone hand in hand with a steady growth of farm indebtedness and the farmers’ increasing dependence on their creditors—big business and the big banks. For example, the total indebtedness of US farmers in 1973 was US $73.6 billion, about three-quarters of the value of all farm buildings, machines, and animals. As a result, corporations have been created that have moved agricultural production far beyond the scope of individual capital. In 1973, for example, the 2,500 agribusinesses in the USA controlled many US farms, and 20 percent of US agricultural output was produced under some form of contracting and vertical integration.

Developing countries. The nature of agriculture in the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America is determined by local social, economic, and political conditions. Once the developing countries threw off the colonial yoke, many came under economic dependence on the developed capitalist states. Their agriculture is largely underdeveloped, even though most of the population is engaged in agriculture—for example, 82 percent in Afghanistan, 68 percent in India, 70 percent in Indonesia, 55 percent in Egypt, 84 percent in Kenya, and 91 percent in Mali.

Agriculture in the developing countries is represented by semisubsistence peasant farms, commodity production by the local rural bourgeoisie, semifeudal latifundia and plantations, often owned by foreign monopolies. In some countries, such as India, Burma, and Indonesia, the state sector has a certain role. In others, such as Algeria, Tunisia, and Iran, producers’ cooperatives are encouraged. The resolution of the agrarian question is determined, primarily, by the sociopolitical orientation of these states. Among the main purposes of agrarian reform are bringing an end to the semifeudal rent system and setting maximum limits on landownership, but in most cases agrarian reform only concentrates commodity production in the hands of the local rural bourgeoisie.

Apart from the agrarian question, agriculture in the developing countries has several other distinguishing features. First, land is generally in short supply. Second, productivity is generally

Table 9. Per capita output of the basic agricultural products in some European socialist countries (1973, kg)
Grains and legumes .............8606665051,131664670687
Potatoes ....................383496711301,556127143
Fruits, berries, grapes ............274443123836124140
Meat and lard (slaughter weight)......668588118825853
Milk .......................198381428174488216158
Eggs (units) ..................197292268334233204153
Table 10. Share of developed capitalist countries in the world capitalist output of some agricultural products (percent)
 Prewar periodEarly 1970’s
Wheat ..........................6664
Corn ...........................6871
Sugar beets.......................9983
Cotton fiber.......................5331
Meat ...........................6074
Eggs ...........................6975
Wool ...........................7273

low; per capita production is on the average 2.5 times lower than in the developed capitalist countries. Third, farming practices tend to be technologically backward; many countries do not use fertilizers, advanced machinery, and means of plant protection. Finally, both crop yields and livestock productivity are low. Between 1961 and 1973 grain yields averaged 10.3 quintals per ha in Africa, 15.5 quintals in Asia, and 14.9 quintals in Latin America. In 1970 milk production averaged 750 kg per cow in Burma, 450 kg per cow in India, 2,500 kg in Indonesia, 680 kg in Egypt, 1,930 kg in Rhodesia, and 2,720 kg in Chile. In some countries—in Africa, for example—agriculture is based on the slash-and-burn system, the ground is cultivated with hoes, and the ashes of burned trees and bushes are used as fertilizer. Agricultural machines are available only to a few large farms, not to small farms, which are in the majority.

The so-called green revolution, whose proponents wish to introduce high-yield, drought-resistant strains of wheat, rice, and corn, to plant larger areas in these crops, and to make use of mineral fertilizers, has not brought significant results. Self-sufficiency in grain has still not been attained. Per capita grain production has been low—212 kg in 1973, or one-third that of the developed capitalist countries and almost one-fourth that of the members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Growth rates for other agricultural products are low, forcing the developing countries into greater dependence on imported food. In 1972 and 1973,37 million tons of wheat were imported. Low per capita grain production and slow growth rates for other products have led to a chronic food shortage and widespread undernourishment. According to UN statistics, 20 to 25 percent of the population in the Far East, Middle East, and Africa suffer from hunger. In all, about 460 million people are undernourished. The solution to the food problem requires radical agrarian changes and much greater intensification of agricultural production.


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


The production of plants and animals useful to humans, involving soil cultivation and the breeding and management of crops and livestock.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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