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Collection Meeting of Frontiers

Agriculture in Siberia

This essay was published in 2000 as part of the original Meeting of Frontiers website.

Peasants moving to Siberia tried to settle in areas with the greatest potential for agricultural development--land with fertile soil, near rivers or lakes, with wood close at hand. Such conditions existed only in the forest steppe region of southwestern Siberia and in parts of southern Siberia, and this is where most of the settlers moved.

This colonization transformed Siberian agriculture and linked it to the hungry markets of European Russia. Peasants brought new types of wheat, flax, and other crops to Siberia, and new tools and techniques, such as the heavy plow and manuring of fields. But they also had to adjust to Siberian conditions, learning, for example, to plant their crops neither too low in the wet taiga (which risked rot) nor too high on open lands (which risked frost). By the late nineteenth century, these peasants created one of the most productive farming regions in the Russian Empire.

They also helped to create a booming Siberian dairy industry. As in the American West, much of the land in the steppe region of southern Siberia is more suitable for animal husbandry than for growing crops: cattle and railroads transformed the Russian frontier no less than the American frontier. By 1913 there were, for example, some four thousand Siberian creameries, that kept Russia--and the world--well supplied with butter; 60 percent of Russia's exports of butter came from Siberia.