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Russian Agriculture
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The Russian government has for centuries supported the colonization of the Russian Far East. In the 1850s Russian colonists began to settle the Zeya-Burey plains and quickly developed a flourishing local economy. These are the richest soils east of Baikal and they produce good yields despite a growing season that only starts in June. In addition to Russian agricultural settlers who came en-mass from Ukraine and Southern Russia in search of land, the region had multiple Chinese and Korean agricultural enclaves even before large-scale Russian colonization. Russian settlers both competed and cooperated with Chinese farmers, who during certain periods, such as the beginning of the 20 th century, produced a large share of local crops, and always the bulk of the vegetables.

Agricultural land occupies only 4.4 percent of the territory of the Russian portion of the Amur-Heilong River basin (excluding unmanaged grasslands occasionally used for grazing). See table on agriculture land structure and production in Russia in 2002 Although soy-beans, wheat, and potatoes are now the most widespread crops, in Soviet times the Lake Khanka plains produced large crops of rice. Because of lower inputs of labor and fertilizer, yield per unit area in Russia is one half to one third that in China . ( see Economic comparison table from S.S.Ganzei)

The Zeya-Bureya Plains are the most extensive lowlands in Russia 's Amur basin, encompassing more than three million ha is the largest cropland area in the Russian Amur basin; Russia , China , and Japan consider this area a strategically important future source of food. Another major enclave of agriculture is the lowland around the transboundary Lake Khanka-Xingkai in Primorsky Province . A significant portion of grain and livestock production in the western basin is produced in the Argun River valley in Chitinskaya Province .

Soviet agricultural development was heavily subsidized and consisted of large state-owned and collective farms. When reforms were implemented from 1990 to 1997, government subsidies were reduced or eliminated. Crop and livestock production dropped by more than one third during this time. From 1990 to 2001 the area managed for agricultural production declined 19 percent, arable land under cultivation declined by 48 percent, and the area under grain cultivation declined by 63 percent. Conversion of wildland to farmland effectively ceased as did the renovation of drainage systems. Use of fertilizers declined by 90 percent. (see Map Abandoned cropland in Zeya Bureya Plains) .

Analyses by Chinese experts indicate that the RFE currently has a 30 percent deficiency of seasonal farm workers and 50 percent of Russian machinery is obsolete or not serviceable. One third of arable land lies fallow, with 1.4 million ha of unused land in Primorsky and 1.3 million in Amurskaya Province . Currently agricultural production in the RFE is not adequate to meet local needs, producing 15 percent of consumed grain, 50 percent of vegetables, 20 percent of fruits, and 52 percent of milk. The rest is imported from outside the region, mostly from China . In 2001 Chinese diplomats proposed to send up to one million farmers to help reinstate farming on the vast area of abandoned agricultural lands of the RFE.

Recent administrative system reforms force municipal authorities to rely on taxes from agricultural land leases as their main source of local public funds. Unused arable land is now more than ever viewed by authorities both as lost tax revenue and as a sign of poor administration. Along with other factors this creates incentives for municipal authorities to quickly lease all such lands. For example, in Leninsky and Oktyabrsky districts of Evreiskaya Autonomy on the left bank of the Amur-Heilong this result has been the rapid leasing of lands to Chinese farmers who mainly grow soybeans. Ownership of these lands has not yet been legally decided because, by law, they should be divided in shares between former members of collective farms. This uncertainty over ownership limits leases to one to two year agreements that do not encourage lessees to undertake long-term obligations for land restoration, environmental protection, or infrastructure improvement. But in the short term Chinese farmers are increasingly becoming the most important taxpayers and sources of public subsidies in Amur-Heilong left-bank municipalities. Chinese authorities express optimism, stressing that a migrant farmer earns 10,000 Yuan (US$1,250) in a season in Russia . That same farmer might make 1/3 of that by staying at home. In 2005 about 140,000 farmers from Heilongjiang Province labored outside China, many of those in Russia where they can farm more land per farmer than at home and lease costs are less than half. A 30 percent increase in migrant workers from 2004 to 2005 indicated good potential for further expansion.



Map collections: Forestry

Oil & gas



Fields expanding beyond horizon. Zeya-Bureya Plain. Amurskaya Province. (Photo by E.Simonov)



Also look:

Land-use trends:

General trends in land-use

Recent changes in land-use in three countries



Amur Agriculture

Agricultural development in Northeast China

Agricultural development in Eastern Mongolia

Russian agricultural land and production in RFE-tables

Northeast Asia cooperation in agriculture

Environmental impacts of argiculture

Land degradation and desertification

Conversion of wildlands to farmland



Timber harvest in the Russian Far East

Salmon vs forestry

Major human-induced impacts on forest ecosystems of RFE (table)

Timber trade


Other land-use issues:


Nature tourism in the Amur/Heilong River Basin

Transport infrastructure impacts

Oil & gas Basin

Oil & gas impacts

Russian mining

Mongolian mining

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