Russia’s soil resources during the last 150 years
Occupying a vast territory of Eastern Europe and the entire Northern Asia, Russia possesses a huge amount of land – 1709,8 million hectares. The Russian territory is represented by numerous types of soils – from Arctic deserts and tundra, taiga soils and swamps to forest–steppe and steppe black earth, brown soils, fulvous and saline soils of semi deserts, subtropical brown soils and reddish terra rossa. More than half of the Russian territory is occupied by various types of northern soils and about 1/3 – by mountain soils, mainly also cold. Permafrost is found over half of Russian territory. Only ¼ of land resources of the country is suitable for agriculture to a certain degree, since northern and middle forest zones lack enough sun. The yearly amount of average daily temperatures above 10ºÑ in these areas does not exceed 1400 degree–days. Southern continental regions lack atmospheric moisture (less than 400 mm per year). In total, 13% of Russian territory is occupied by agricultural areas, while areas of arable land occupy only 7%. In addition, more than half of all arable lands are found in the black earth zone.
The account of Russian land resources was initiated in XV century, as so called “penmen books” written by special penmen – registrar clerks. These books contained descriptions of land estate, with various details on agricultural and forest areas and soils. Later on, a significant role in the investigation of the Russian natural resources, including its soils, was played by expeditions of XVIII century, headed by the most prominent scientists of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Systematic studies of soil resources of Russia began in 1765, when in compliance with the decree issued by Catherine the Great, the total land survey was initiated. It was the beginning of the Russian land cadastre.
According to the data from the total land survey, in northern regions of non–humus areas of Russia (Vyatka, Kostroma, Novgorod, Perm) arable lands occupied 10–19%, hay lands – 2–6%; in industrial regions (Moscow, Vladimir etc.) arable lands occupied about 30% of all suitable areas, hay lands – 4–8%. In northern regions of humus areas (Tula, Orel, Ryazan, Penza) arable lands occupied from 41 to 67% of suitable lands, hay lands – 7–12%. In recently by that time populated southern regions of central humus lands (Voronezh, Tambov), arable lands occupied 35–38%, hay lands – 26–28%. In 1851, the first schematic map of the Russian soils with the scale of 200 versts in inch (1:8 400 000) was published. This map reflected the distribution of eight types of soils, including humus areas, clays, sandy soils, loam, muddy soils, saline soils, chalk and stony soils. In 1879 a new soil map of European Russia (1:2520000) was issued, that contained 32 types of soils including humus soils, podzol soils, grey forest soils, saline soils, etc.
Prior to 1860–s, during the period of mainly extensive agriculture, little attention was paid to the soil structure in Russia. After the famous reform of 1861 the situation began to change significantly. Just for the period of 1860 – 1887 the areas of arable land in southern and eastern humus regions have increased almost by 1,5 times. The monotony of natural low–productive activities began to be replaced by various forms of market agriculture, primitive agricultural tools were replaced by those, that had a profound effect on the soil structure. Variety of cultivated agricultural species increased rapidly. Among grain crops, rye was being replaced by wheat, which is more demanding to the quality of a soil. Gradually, the regional specialization of agriculture was established. Thus, northern, north–western, the Baltic and central industrial regions became the main areas of dairy stock–breeding, south western regions – produced sugar beet, north western regions – flax, central regions – wine, potato and starch. Fast development of grain agriculture of southern and eastern regions was primarily due to the development of unused lands.
However, productivity growth in agriculture was mainly achieved due to expansion of arable lands in new areas and not due to increase in land fertility and in crop capacity of agricultural plants. In general the natural soils fertility was used, that got accumulated during centuries. Thus, the soils became gradually depleted of important minerals. This kind of land usage led to soil depletion, deterioration of soil quality, destruction of soil structure, intensification of water and wind erosion; draughts became more frequent. The condition of humus soils, was particularly problematic. These soils were the main areas for cultivating wheat – the main product of agricultural export of Russia. In 1880, V.V.Dokuchaev characterized Russian agriculture as completely unsatisfactory – average crop capacity of grain in Russia was three times lower than in France and Germany, and hardly reached 500 kg/hectare. According to V.V.Dokuchaev, one
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