agronomy(redirected from agronomically)
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The science and study of crops and soils. Agronomy is the umbrella term for a number of technical research and teaching activities: crop physiology and management, soil science, plant breeding, and weed management frequently are included in agronomy; soil science may be treated separately; and vegetable and fruit crops generally are not included. Thus, agronomy refers to extensive field cultivation of plant species for human food, livestock and poultry feed, fibers, oils, and certain industrial products. See Agriculture
Agronomic studies include some basic research, but the specialists in this field concentrate on applying information from the more basic disciplines, among them botany, chemistry, genetics, mathematics, microbiology, and physiology. Agronomists also interact closely with specialists in other applied areas such as ecology, entomology, plant pathology, and weed science. The findings of these collaborative efforts are tested and recommended to farmers through agricultural extension agents or commercial channels to bring this knowledge into practice. This critical area is now focused on the efficiency of resource use, profitability of management practices, and minimization of the impact of farming on the immediate and the off-farm environment. See Agroecosystem
literally, the science of field cropping. In the broad sense the term denotes the principles of agricultural production in general or the aggregate of knowledge in all branches of agriculture. With the development of the theory and practice of agricultural production, several areas of inquiry have become independent of agronomy: farm economics and organization, animal husbandry, the theory of agricultural machinery, the technology of processing agricultural products, and the like. Agronomy has come to mean the complex of agronomic sciences and practices involved in crop growing: specifically, farming, agricultural chemistry, agronomic physics, plant growing, selection, seed growing, seed science, plant pathology, agricultural entomology, agricultural land development, and so on. Scientific agronomy is based on general biology, plant physiology, soil science, agricultural meteorology, genetics, microbiology, biochemistry, biophysics, and other natural sciences. Agronomy uses the laboratory method, the pot-culture method, field experiments, and the results of expeditionary studies of vegetation and soils, among other techniques. Production tests are run to verify conclusions reached from the pot-culture and field methods.
Agronomy arose out of the practical activity of man, developing in close connection with growth of the productive forces of society and with change in socioeconomic relations and progress in natural science. The roots of agronomy lie deep in the past. Man has tilled the soil for many thousands of years. Even during the epoch of slavery, a great body of empirical knowledge in the form of agronomic rules and directions for agriculture had accumulated in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, ancient Greece, China, India, and Rome. Slow development of the natural sciences and stagnation in agronomy, which did not rise beyond the level it had reached in ancient times, characterized the feudal era. Agronomic information was contained mainly in historical and geographical treatises, legislation, administrative acts, and other such documents. Later, special treatises on agriculture and domestic science appeared, in which, however, the information was drawn mainly from the written monuments of the ancient epoch. During the period of feudalism, in a number of Western European countries the ancient long-fallow system of farming began to give way before fallow grain farming. With the discovery of America, new crops appeared in the Old World—the potato, corn, tobacco, and others—and these were then widely adopted. The scope of agronomic information was correspondingly enlarged.
With the development of capitalism and growth of the urban population came a rise in the demand for agricultural products. This brought with it an increase in the marketability of these products and the introduction of more intensive farming systems. In the second half of the 18th century, under the influence of A. Young, fallow farming in England was replaced by crop rotation. At the turn of the century other countries also faced the problem of transition to a more intensive system of agriculture. Great credit for the solution of this problem is due to the German scientist I. Schubart, who originated the practice of sowing clover on fallow ground and who did much to advance the cultivation of clover. It was A. Thaer of Germany who synthesized Western European achievements in agronomy. He categorized all crops as soil-depleting or soil-enriching and thereby confirmed the necessity of alternating the two in crop rotation. Thaer proceeded from the so-called humus theory of plant nutrition, which erroneously maintained that green plants draw carbon from the soil through their roots. Nevertheless, Thaer’s basic ideas of the significance of organic substance in the soil played a constructive role in the development of agronomy. During the 19th century both plant chemistry and plant physiology began to assume stature as independent sciences. A long step forward had been taken in the theory of plant nutrition. In 1840 the German scientist Liebig formulated the basic tenets of the theory of the mineral nutrition of plants, according to which it is only the inorganic world which supplies food to plants, humus playing only the indirect role of acting on the mineral component of the soil by means of the carbon dioxide formed as the humus decomposes. Liebig’s error lay in underestimating the importance of nitrogenous fertilizers. The French scientist J. Boussingault, one of Liebig’s contemporaries, established that plants draw nitrogen, just as they do the ash elements, from the soil. Boussingault established the first experiment station in Western Europe (Alsace, 1837). The development of agronomy was largely tied in with the work of the Rothamsted Experimental Station in England. The German scientist H. Helriegel played a great role in agronomy by demonstrating experimentally the symbiosis of legumes and rhizobia (1886). The branch of agronomy later known as agronomic physics developed significantly during this same period.
The theory of heredity was formulated by G. Mendel (Austria, 1868), A. Weismann (Germany, 1899), and T. Morgan (United States, 1911). The American plant breeder L. Burbank contributed substantially to the advancement of agronomy through his development of new varieties of fruits and decorative and other agricultural plants. Much attention is given in the United States to so-called dry agriculture (the cultivation of crops in arid regions without use of irrigation), to control of weeds and plant diseases and pests, and to the prevention of soil erosion. Both Western Europe and the United States have successfully developed agricultural uses of chemistry (such as fertilizing and liming) and seed selection and growing.
Agronomy in Russia, as in other countries, passed through an extended period of development. Ancient Russian literature contains some information on agricultural practices, and scattered notes on various practical questions of agriculture have also come down to us. During the first half of the 18th century, translations of foreign agricultural and domestic science manuals appeared. M. V. Lomonosov played a great part in the founding of Russian agronomy. In his works he developed progressive agronomic ideas and strove persistently for the advancement of agriculture, experimentation, and study of the country’s agriculture. The Free Economic Society, founded in 1765, was prominent in the development of Russian agronomy. The writings and practical work of A. T. Bolotov and I. M. Komov, who criticized the fallow farming which was prevalent at the time, were also quite effective in advancing national agronomy. Bolotov proposed seven-field in place of three-field crop rotation, by reducing the fallow area and putting three fields in grass; Komov was the first Russian scientist to justify the use of legume grasses and root crops in crop rotation and replacement of fallow with intertilled crops. Well acquainted with foreign practices, Komov came out against reliance on set patterns and established formulas and simplifications in agronomy, recommending instead the use of experiments repeated until no doubt remained of the results.
In the first half of the 19th century M. G. Pavlov contributed significantly to Russian agronomy. In his works are laid down the scientific foundations of agriculture: significance of soil processes in plant nutrition, use of fertilizers, and shift from three-field grain farming to intensive crop rotation. Pavlov attributed great importance to agricultural practice, regarding it as the means of setting theory in motion. A. V. Sovetov’s writings (second half of the 19th century) summarized what was best in Russian practice and in the literature on farming systems up to that time; they established the connection between forms of cultivation and socioeconomic conditions. Sovetov also supplied a classification and a history of farming systems. Ideas on farming systems were further developed around the turn of the century in the works of A. N. Shishkin, A. P. Liudogovorskii, A. S. Ermolov, I. A. Stebut, V. R. Vil’iams, D. N. Prianishnikov, and other scientists. V. V. Dokuchaev contributed significantly to agronomy by advancing the concept of soil as a specific natural-historical object developed under the action of a number of factors. With N. M. Sibirtsev, he worked out a scientific soil classification based on soil origin, as well as measures for restoring and maintaining the fertility of the Russian chernozem. At this time P. A. Kostychev established the basis of agronomic soil science. Genetic soil science is concerned with soil as a natural-historical object; agronomic soil science views soil as a basic resource in agricultural production. Kostychev’s studies revealed the links between plant life and the soil and demonstrated the part man plays in altering those links. In studying the processes of organic decomposition in the soil, Kostychev demonstrated the critical role played by various groups of lower organisms. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Russian soil science was further advanced by K. D. Glinka, V. R. Vil’iams and L. I. Prasolov. Using the methods of physics and colloid chemistry, K. K. Gedroits worked out a theory of soil absorptivity; his research afforded an explanation of many of the processes of soil formation and of variations in the most important agronomic properties of soil.
The birth of Russian agricultural chemistry during the 1860’s and 1870’s is associated with the name of D. I. Mendeleev, who studied questions of plant nutrition and increase of crop yield. Mendeleev devoted particular attention to the application of fertilizers and nutrients to subsurface soil horizons. A. N. Engel’gardt, in the 1870’s and 1880’s, studied the effectiveness of mineral and organic fertilizers and also the role of lime and lupine on his Batischevo estate in Smolensk Province and thereby did a great service to establishment of the foundations of Russian agronomy. Thanks to D. N. Prianishnikov’s many years of scientific activity, the processes by which plants extract ammonia nitrogen were studied, which made it possible to organize industrial production of ammonia fertilizers and to effect their widespread practical adoption in agriculture. Prianishnikov’s research on phosphorites promoted the development of phosphorus fertilizer production. Prianishnikov also established the role of leguminous plants in the nitrogen balance and developed the science of crop rotation and sequences.
K. A. Timiriazev, in conducting his classic research on photosynthesis, made a highly important contribution to the physiology and theory of plant nutrition. He regarded photosynthesis as intimately bound to root nutrition in plants. Timiriazev’s tenet that the study of plant requirements is a basic task of scientific agriculture serves to this very day as a guideline in the development of agronomic disciplines.
Progress in agricultural microbiology in Russia is associated with the scientific work of S. N. Vinogradskii, who in 1889 isolated the bacteria which induce the process of nitrification. He showed that the oxidation of ammonia in the soil takes place in two phases, each of which is dependent on the activity of various bacteria. Vinogradskii studied the biology of both iron and sulfur bacteria and isolated microorganisms which were able to assimilate free atmospheric nitrogen. Using Vinogradskii’s methods, microbiologists are still studying the role of microorganisms in the soil. In 1892, D. I. Ivanovskii discovered the filterable virus and thereby began a new branch of biology which is of great significance to agriculture—virology.
Experimental and educational establishments have played a special role in Russian agronomy. The Free Economic Society in 1867 began experiments with fertilizers. In 1884 the Poltava experimental field was established. It was followed by the Kherson (1889), Odessa, Donskoe, Taganrog, and Lokhvitsa experimental fields (1894) and by the Viatka, Ivanovo (1895) and Bezenchuk (1903) experiment stations. In 1902 a network of experiment stations was set up at various sugar refineries to develop methods of sugar beet cultivation and the selection and variety testing of that crop. The year 1908 saw the beginning of a new direction in the organization of agricultural experimental work in Russia—the locating of agricultural scientific-research institutions in accordance with the natural zones of the country and the creation of state experimental stations (the Zapol’e station in Petersburg Province, the Engel’gardt station in Smolensk Province, the Kostychev station in Samara Province, and the Shatilovi station in Tula Province). At these experimental facilities were studied and developed tillage methods, crop rotation systems, agricultural techniques for individual crops, and other questions of importance in farming. During the first half of the 19th century the Novoaleksandriiskii Institute of Agriculture and Forestry was opened (now the V. V. Dokuchaev Kharkov Agricultural Institute), and also the Gory-Goretskii Institute (now the Byelorussian Agricultural Academy). The Petrov Agricultural and Forestry Academy was founded in 1865 (now the K. A. Timiriazev Moscow Agricultural Academy); this school became a center of progress in agronomy and the training of agronomic specialists. One of the largest agricultural colleges was opened in Voronezh in 1913. At the beginning of the century higher agricultural courses for women were organized in Moscow and Petersburg, and veterinary institutes were founded in Kharkov, Kazan, Warsaw, and Iur’ev. But with all this, agronomy in prerevolutionary Russia exerted only an insignificant influence on practical agriculture, since the basic mass of the peasants’ farms consisted of extremely small parcels of land and lacked the necessary equipment and capital to take advantage of the progress realized in agronomy.
In the USSR the possibilities of putting to work the achievements of agronomic science increased immeasurably, especially after implementation of the Leninist cooperative plan, at which time the small peasant farms were merged into kolkhozes, and large state farms—the sovkhozes—were organized. The development of agronomy was favored by the creation of a network of new scientific-research institutions and educational establishments, while subsequent differentiation of the branches of agronomy worked toward the same end. The V. I. Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, a higher scientific agricultural center, was founded in 1929. Training of agronomic specialists was expanded. I. V. Michurin contributed greatly toward the understanding of laws controlling developmental processes in plants. Plant physiology was enriched; it mastered the technique of a precise and objective estimation of the resistance of crops to the drought and cold resulting from the physical and chemical properties of plant cell protoplasm. The works of Timiriazev and his students advanced the theory of photosynthesis still further. Soviet scientists conducted research on species, variety, and ecological diversity in crops and brought to light many species of plants hitherto unknown to science.
N. I. Vavilov formulated the law of serial homology and hereditary variability (1920), which indicates to the plant breeder routes to follow in the search for new initial forms in crossing and selecting plants. Mutual enrichment between theoretical studies and practical research has made it possible to realize important achievements in the selection of agricultural plants. With the leadership and direct participation of plant breeder-scientists (P. N. Konstantinov, P. I. Lisitsyn, A. P. Shekhurdin, P. P. Luk’ianenko, V. N. Remeslo, F. G. Kirichenko, N. V. Tsitsin, L. A. Zhdanov, V. S. Pustovoit, A. G. Lorkha, and many others), remarkable varieties of agricultural plants have been bred. Scientific research begun as early as 1919 by N. I. Vavilov on plant immunity to diseases and harmful insects is being continued. A system of plant-protective measures—agricultural, biological, chemical, and physicomechanical—has been worked out and is being introduced into practice. Scientific studies of the use of herbicides are being made. On the basis of mastery and creative development of the work begun by A. N. Kostiakov (1887–1957), G. N. Vysotskii (1865–1940), N. I. Sus (1880–1967), and other Soviet scientists, effective systems of measures for improvement of the air-water regime of waterlogged lands, irrigation of crops in arid regions, and forestation are being successfully elaborated and put into practice. Soil science is developing satisfactorily, especially along the line of a more thorough study of the absorbing system, establishment of soil classification principles, and methods of soil cartography. Knowledge of soil microbiology and agronomic physics has expanded. A significant amount of research on soil erosion has been done, and practical antierosion techniques devised (S. S. Sobolev and others). Many scientific-research institutions and agricultural colleges have set up long-term stationary experiments to study crop rotation and the single-crop system of farming. The increasing volume of mineral fertilizers and other uses of chemistry in the agricultural economy has demanded the creation of a single agricultural chemistry service for the whole country. Plant pathology, agricultural entomology, and virology have all progressed. A whole network of institutions for protection of plants against pests and diseases has been created. A branch network of state seed inspections has been organized. Measures have been worked out for improvement of natural fodder-producing land, along with means of creating artificial hay stands and pastures. Schemes for organizing guaranteed fodder, rational cattle pasturage, and means of raising yield and securing more expedient use of sown fodder grasses and corn and root crops (such as by production of grass meal, improvement of ensilage methods, and fodder preservation) have been studied and recommended.
The USSR enjoys an extensive network of scientific-research and experimental institutions for agriculture. In prerevolutionary Russia (1914) there were only about 130 experiment stations and experimental fields; the USSR in 1968 had 45 ail-Union and 147 branch and regional scientific-research institutes for agriculture, 479 experiment and selection stations, and 1,550 state strain-testing stations. Scientific research in agronomy and training of highly qualified specialists in agriculture are conducted by 98 agricultural institutes. A wide geographical network of mineral fertilizer tests, conducted in various climatic zones, has been organized; in these some 200 different scientific and research institutions participate. All scientific work in agronomy is coordinated by the V. I. Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
The present-day tasks of agronomy derive from the necessity of satisfying the growing needs of the population for agricultural products. The agronomic sciences are called upon to develop methods which will steadily free agriculture from the effects of harmful natural factors, particularly drought. Here a very important role belongs to mechanization, agricultural engineering, use of chemistry, land development, and seed selection and growing. The successful execution of the tasks facing agronomy is possible only with a rise in the level of scientific research, further organization of the interrelated working out of the most important problems, and the most intimate bonds between agricultural theory and practice. We must observe strictly the methodology of conducting field experiments and perfect that methodology, and we must introduce into research work new and more precise methods of field and laboratory analysis, in particular the use of apparatus reflecting the latest advances in physics, electronics, chemistry, and mathematics.
The scientific and practical problems of agronomy are discussed in numerous periodicals, among which may be mentioned Mezhdunarodnyi sel’skokhoziaistvennyi zhurnal (The International Agricultural Journal), an organ of the nation-members of the Council of Economic Assistance, Sofia-Moscow, since 1957; the Soviet journals Agrokhimiia (Agricultural Chemistry), Zemledelie (Farming), Pochvovedenie (Soil Science), Selektsiia i semenovodstvo (Selection and Seed Growing), and Sel’skokhoziaistvennaia biologiia (Agricultural Biology); Agronomy Journal (United States); Journal of Agricultural Science (England); Agriculture pratique (France); and Landwirtschaftliches Zentralblatt, a journal of abstracts from world literature on agriculture and forestry (German Democratic Republic).
REFERENCESSovetov, A. V. O sistemakh zemledeliia. St. Petersburg, 1867.
Prianishnikov, D. N. Razvitie osnovnykh vozzrenii v agronomii zaistekshee stoletie (1806–1906). Moscow, 1906.
Vavilov, N. I. “Shest’ let raboty Akademii s.-kh. nauk im. V. I. Lenina.” Biulleten’ VASKhNIL, 1935, no. 6.
Timiriazev, K. A. Zemledelie ifiziologiia rastenii. In Soch., vol. 3. Moscow, 1937.
Konstantinov, P. N. Osnovy sel’skokhoziaistvennogo opytnogo dela. Moscow, 1952.
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Prianishnikov, D. N. Lektsii po kursu “Vvedenie ν agronomiiu” .... In Izbr. soch., vol. 3. Moscow, 1965.
S. A. VOROB’EV