Three-Field System

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The three-field system predominated in Russian peasant agriculture until the Stalin era. Plowland was divided into three sections: each year one section was sown in the winter, a second was sown to another grain in the spring, and a third was left fallow to restore its fertility. The following year the section that had been sown in the winter was sown in the spring, the section sown in the spring was left fallow, and the previous year's fallow was sown in the winter. Land not sown to grain was kept outside the three-field system.

Similar forms of rotation prevailed across Europe well into the eighteenth century. These forms were displaced by systems that promised higher productivity and money profits. In Russia, however, the Agricultural Revolution did not make significant inroads on the threefield system, though it prompted learned landowners to reproach peasants for superstitiously clinging to an outmoded system.

In fact, the threefield system remained an appropriate adaptation to Russian conditions for a long time. It assumed a relative abundance of land and took into account the harshness of the climate and (often) the poor fertility of the soil. In contrast to profitseeking farmers, Russian peasants sought, above all, to avert the threat of starvation. The forms of rotation practiced in the West entailed the intensive application of fertilizers, in the form of manure and of crops such as clover. The animals that provided the manure and ate the clover produced dairy and meat products for the market. Russia's vast spaces and poor system of transportation meant that most peasants did not have the access to markets required for relatively perishable products (as opposed to grain, which peasants did market). As railroads improved access to markets, many peasants did adapt. As late as 1920, however, for most peasants, abandoning the threefield system meant pursuing illusory gains and running unacceptable risks. It was not yearning for profits but the pressure of population on land that brought the three-field system into crisis. What peasants perceived as a problem of land shortage fueled the revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

See also: agriculture; peasant economy


Moon, David. (1999). The Russian Peasantry, 16001930: The World the Peasants Made. London: Addison Wesley Longman.

Robinson, Geroid Tanquary. (1932). Rural Russia under the Old Régime. London: Macmillan.

Daniel Field

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Three-Field System

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