Belarusia became a nation in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries;
from 1569 it was a part of the
Belarusian SSR was one of the most dynamic economic regions of the
public sector played the main role in agricultural production: collective
farms, state farms and inter-economic associations. In the eighties
the situation changed. The break-up of the economic system, after
the political break-up of the
reform was carried out under the Land Code of the
Demography. In 2000 the population of the Republic was in
excess of 10,000,000 (Table 1). According to the World
Factbook the population reached
and Crop Production (see Table 2 land area of the Republic is
the early nineteen nineties changes took place in the structure of
the arable area because of the complicated economic situation in the
processing industry and unsettled markets: thus in the grain area
winter rye was considerably reduced (from
of the rape oil industry has encouraged considerable growth of the
rape area (from
Structural changes mentioned above have been accompanied by yield decreases in all main crops (Table 3). Cereal yields fell by 39.5 per cent, potatoes - 16.3; sugar beets - 32.2, vegetables - 27.0, flax - 23 per cent.
yield decrease is caused by a decline in all basic production financing
and by less intensive inputs. The tractor fleet of agricultural enterprises
decreased from 126,200 units in 1990 to
Topography. Belarus is predominantly lowland - flat plains occupy 60 percent of the territory, plateaux 10 percent, and highland hilly areas nearly 30 percent. The north-west has broken and highland relief, while in the south-eastern part the land is mainly level. The south of the Republic is occupied by vast areas of Belarusian Polesje (wood land) which is a large waterlogged flat depression stretching for 450 km from the river Bug to the Dniepr. The relief of Belarus is divided into 4 regions:
I. Belarusian lake-land occupies the northern part. Altitudes are 120-160 m. The relief consists of an alternation of hills and bottomlands with relatively colder humid climate and loamy bouldery soils. There are nearly three thousand lakes in the region including the largest, Narotch.
II. The central region of Belarus glacial hills and ridges in the central part of the republic. The greatest heights of Belarus are here (Mt. Lysaja - 242 m, Mt. Dzerzhinskaja - 345 m). The region also contains the watershed of the Chernomorsk and Baltic basin. Sandy - loam soils dominate.
III. The region of plains and bottomlands of Predpolesje occupies an intermediate position between the hills of the centre and the bottom land of Polesje. General height is 160-190 m and the relief is made up of typical river valleys.
IV. The regions of the Polesje bottomlands occupy the southern lower part of Belarus with flattest plain, waterlogged relief and sandy peat soils.
The hydrographic network involves the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea basins. The main watershed stretches from north-east to south-west along the Minsk highland. Water systems of the Western Dvina, the Nieman and the Western Bug (42 per cent of the republic’s territory) belong to the Baltic basin, while those of the Dnieper (58 per cent) belong to the Black Sea basin. The river network is dense, 0.44 km of river/km2. There are 20,800 rivers. Large rivers, more than 500 km long, are the Dnieper, the Western Dvina, the Nieman, the Prypyat, the Soge, and the Beresina. The Dnieper basin occupies the north and south and its territory in the republic is 105,000 km2. The Western Dvina basin takes up the northern part of the republic with an area of 33,200 km2 . The Nieman basin in the west has an area of 35,000 km2. Belarus has more than 10,000,000 lakes, most of them small; the largest is Naratch (with a surface area of 79,600 km2).
Soils. The soils of the Republic are divided into:
- auto amorphic soils (not swampy with normal moistening) which are typical of hilly relief and are the main areas that are constantly cultivated by ploughing (52.3 percent of Belarus);
- semi hydromorphic soils (swampy, partly waterlogged) typical of low relief lands (i.e. lowlands that are wet in certain periods of the year, such as early spring and after very heavy rainfall) and are occupied by forests mainly (27 percent);
- hydromorphic soils (peat-boggy, constantly water-logged - 20.1 percent of Belarus).
Sward-podzolic soils dominate in Belarus, comprising nearly 67 percent of all types of soils. Sward-podzolic soils of normal moistening occupy 33 percent of agricultural lands, while sward-podzolic waterlogged soils occupy 33.8 percent of agricultural lands. Sward-podzolic soils have a light mechanical composition. This can be seen in the example of arable soils in Table 4.
Peat-podzolic soil predominates and makes up nearly 68 percent of all soils. Peat-boggy soils are widespread in Belarus; high-moor peat soils predominate in the north of the Republic, and lowland peat in the central and southern part of the Republic (Table 5)
The area of soils of the independent type-bogs is given in table 6.
All agricultural lands in the Republic are estimated according to fertility on the grounds of the dominant soil type (Table 7).
Land reclamation. The most important human intervention that has changed the structure of land use in Belarus in the last fifty years has been the large-scale reclamation. Drainage was carried out on 3,221,600 ha (15.5 percent of the country’s area) of which 2,927,100 ha were agricultural land (31 percent of their total area). Of the 2,927,100 ha some 1,326,800 ha were arable or ploughed land, and 1,600,300 ha of the drained lands were under hay and pasture (Table 8).
The largest tracts of drained agricultural lands are in Polesje (Brest, Gomel, Minsk region) where they occupy 40-70 percent of the total agricultural land. There are 684,100 hectares of drained agricultural lands in Brest region the difference between this figure and the total of 687,900 ha in Table 8 is due to some land having been put out of use because of non-functioning drainage systems, but these differences for all regions are small, (46 percent of the agricultural lands of the region), 529,800 hectares - in Gomel region (36 percent), 596,600 hectares - in Minsk region (31 percent), 522,300 hectares - in Vitebsk region (30 percent), 293,100 hectares - in Grodno region (22 percent), 294,400 hectares in Mogiljov region (20 percent). Recently, drainage has been designed with dual - side water regulation (drainage and irrigation). It enables the optimum water - air regime to be maintained during the growing period. The first stages included only drainage, which is why a large area under reclamation was over-drained and now needs irrigation. The areas of lands under irrigation are given in Table 9.
Half of the land in Belarus is highly acid and needs liming. Regular liming began in 1964. Up to 2000 six stages of liming were carried out. This resulted in larger areas of land with reduced acidity. The soils are poor in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium so they require application of mineral fertilizers. Many farms have soil maps and maps showing the supply of phosphorus, potassium and some micro-elements.
Radioactive pollution In 1986 due to the Chernobyl accident 23 percent of Belarus territory [including forest], where 2,200,000 people lived, was polluted with radioactivity. According to data from the Belarusian Research Institute for Soil Science and Agrochemistry the agricultural area polluted with caesium 137 was 1,500,000 ha and with strontium 90 nearly 500,000 ha. In 2001 agricultural production used 1,351,000 ha which are polluted with caesium 137 having a density level of more than 1 ki/km2 and 555,000 ha (1 ki =37kd k/m2) polluted with strontium 90 having a density of more than 0.15 ki/km2. Some polluted lands have been set-aside as a radiological reserve. Plants absorb strontium 90 more intensively than radioactive caesium 137. When water level and humus content increases, the stability of links between radionuclides and soil also increase and plants absorb them less intensively.
During the first four years after the accident there were no great changes in radionuclide migration in the soil; the most radioactive part was the surface five centimetres soil humus layer. To reduce the amount of radionuclides in crops it is necessary to carry out measures, which will first of all include liming and the application of mineral fertilizers. The main agricultural areas polluted with radionuclides are in Gomel (58 percent) and Mogiljov (27 percent) regions where large additional investments are needed in order to produce normatively clean products (allowed levels of radionuclide pollution must not exceed 100 d k/l in milk, 500 d k/kg in beef - in Russia corresponding levels are 50 d k/l and 160 d k/kg respectively). [N.B. Ki - is a national unit of physical radioactivity while the international one is d k (beckerel). d k/l (beckerel per litre) is a unit of radionuclide content in agricultural products].
The climate of Belarus is mild and comparatively moist, under the considerable influence of the Atlantic Ocean. It can be characterized as transitional between marine and continental. Photosynthetic active radiation (FAR) in summer (June) on the Republic varies from 250.5 to 320.0 MJ/m2. The growing period lasts on the average 209 days in the southwest, 178-190 days in the northeast and in the centre (Table 10).
The average temperature of the warmest month (July) in most of Belarus ranges from 17 0C in the north to 19 0C in the southeast. The sum of daily mean temperatures above 100 (during the period of active growth) varies from 21000 in the northern border to 25000 in the south of the Republic. Belarus is characterized by sufficient humidity; mean annual rainfall is 600-650 mm in the central and north-eastern part and is a little less than 600 mm in the low-lying part. During warm periods rainfall constitutes 70-72 percent of the annual rainfall. Maximum rainfall in most cases is in July, August, and in the southwest in June. Relative air humidity in May and June is the lowest, and increases towards the end of summer. The proportion of heat and moisture resources in most districts of Belarus is expressed by a humidity index - 1.2 (in the south of the Republic) and 1.7 - 1.8 (in the north-east). In spring one can observe full soaking of the soil, and in summer evaporation exceeds rainfall. It leads to a considerable decrease of moisture in the upper layer of soil where most root systems of grassland vegetation are located. During these periods grass growth is reduced by 40-60 percent. Depending on heat and moisture supply the territory of Belarus can be divided into 3 agro-climatic regions (Figure 2):
Each agro-climatic region is divided in two by the "contour line" of the number of days with temperature from 5 to 150 over the area: in the western part where the number of such days is more than 110, and the eastern part with less than 110 days.
Figure 2. Agro-climatic regions of Belarus
Landscape The republic is within one natural zone - the temperate continental forest type - and its landscape is rather uniform. Taking into consideration transitional zonal features within this type, several subtypes of landscape can be distinguished - mixed forest and marshy woodland subtype. Boreal "tajozny" subtype of landscape occupies two thirds of the republic and is common in the northern and central parts. Forest landscape constitutes about 30 per cent and is characterized by the prevalence of conifers and by about 300 cubic meters per hectare of timber of medium-age. Agricultural use of land is hindered by medium, and sometimes high (12-22 per cent) concentration of boulders and by steep slopes. Natural pastures are waterlogged and bush-infested, which makes their agricultural development difficult. The land is drained by such large rivers as the western Dvina and the Nieman.
The subtype "subpolessky" marshy woodland landscape occupies about a third of Belarusian territory, in the south. Forest landscape constitutes more than 30 percent and broad-leaf species prevail. Lowland grass and bushy-grass marshes are widespread over this area. The largest tracts of lowland marshes have been drained and developed. More than 30 per cent of landscape area in marshy woodland is used for agriculture. The landscape is drained and formed by the flood plains of large rivers such as the Dnieper, the Pripyat, the Beresina, the Soge, and the western Bug. Meadows and grass marshes are widely used for haymaking and grazing.
Plant cover is represented by forest, meadow and marshy phytocoenoses. There are about 1,650 species of vascular plants with grasses predominating (91 per cent, about 1,500 species) in the modern Belarusian flora. Apart from higher plants the Belarusian flora includes more than 1,000 species of higher mushrooms, about 500 species of algae, 600 species of lichens and 400 moss-like species. Woodlands occupy 8,676,100 ha, of which 7,371,700 ha are directly under forests, that is 35 per cent of the territory of the republic. Meadows take up 3,286,100 ha (15.8 percent of the total land area). Continental meadows prevail (94.8 percent), while are still in their natural state, which is 11.5 per cent of the country’s territory. The unique forest, forest-lake, meadow and marshy landscape is conserved in reserves and national parks (see Table 11).
There are also 90 reserves of national importance (810,100 ha) and 716 of local importance (4,122 ha). The especially preserved and protected natural areas of Belarus cover 1,650,000 ha (7.9 percent of the country’s territory).
Historical Background.Traditionally livestock production in Belarus has been developed on raising horned cattle, since there is a wealth of pasture grasses on natural forage lands. It is no coincidence that the red Belarussian cattle breed was formed, and during a whole millennium has remained the most important factor of practical livestock production in the republic. Unfortunately, lack of proper breeding in the region led to almost absolute loss of this breed which in recent years was completely removed by more productive black and white breeds. At present black and white stock from Germany and Holland are the main breed in all regions of Belarus.
Present Status in Livestock Production. Livestock include 4,300,000 head of cattle, 3,500,000 pigs, 30,000,000 poultry and a small number of horses, sheep and goats. Results of the national livestock census for 2000 are presented in Table 12. Large public and collective farms specialize in cattle and pig production while goat, horse and sheep are typical of private farms belonged. The rural population of the republic also keep considerable amounts of cattle, sheep and pigs.
After 1990 substantial changes in livestock production began, first of all a significant recession in livestock numbers as well as production took place that had been caused by changes in the economic situation in the republic (Table 13). The drop in livestock numbers has largely continued from 1995 to the present.
*Meat=beef+veal, mutton+lamb, pigmeat+chicken.
As shown in Table 13 cattle numbers in the republic have fallen by
27 percent, sheep by 74 percent and only goats and horses were stable
since they are mostly kept on private farms and were not subject to
market forces; although number of horses began to fall after 2000.
Pig numbers fell from
Public and Collective Sectors. Public and collective farms
have 88 percent of all agricultural land in Belarus; they keep 85
percent of all cattle , 62 percent of pigs, 7 percent of sheep but
do not keep goats. Average land area per farm in the public sector
The present status of livestock in the public sector depends to a great extent on activity of large farms and complexes. There are 112 complexes (1992 data) with capacity for 3,000 and more cattle; 109 complexes for 12,000 to 24,000; these had been built in every region before 1990 when in the USSR. Many cattle complexes are in the Central and South-Western zones of the republic where vast grass lands are available.
The main productive system in the public sector is mixed cut-grazing cattle management. Practically all dairy livestock are on improved pastures for 140-170 days in the warm period. In the grazing season they yield 60 to 70 percent of the whole year’s milk. All feeder cattle on livestock complexes and farms are fed green mass, cut on natural hay lands as well as perennial grasses grown on arable land. In winter all cattle are fed haylage.
Mixed cut-grazing system of cattle management fits the republic’s environmental and economic conditions. Public collective farms that apply this system of cattle management produce up to 70 percent of marketed milk and meat.
Private sector. Lands of individual farms (which are few) as well as household plots, account for only 12 percent of all agricultural land. In that sector there are: cattle - 16 percent, horses - 46 percent, sheep - 89 percent, and all the goats (see Table 12). Private sector production is based on mixed cut-graze cattle management and is, at present, extensive owing to poor technical equipment and weak financial position. The private sector produces up to 30 percent of milk and beef.
Vegetation Types. Forage resources are mostly from one vegetation type - forest-meadow - which covers three of the agro-climatic regions - northern, central, and almost all southern. Only a small part of the extreme south (near the Ukrainian border) is another vegetation type.
According to the classification (Shklar, 1973) forest-meadow zone for 97.8 percent of the republic’s territory; within the zone (> 600 mm) pasture ecological conditions differ sharply depending on relief: humid flat and sloping areas are the main type - dry valley pastures, low-lying lands with additional ground water are the second type - lowland pastures (see Table 14).
The pasture area in the republic accounts for nearly 2,975,000 ha including 2,920,000 ha of dry valley pastures on slight-undulating plains and hilly areas and 55,000 ha of lowland pastures on low-lying places and hollows between hills. Most pastures are improved. According to an assessment by the Belarus Research Institute of Experimental Botany (San’ko, 1983) the potential of natural dry valley pastures makes up about 1 ton of dry mass, that of lowland pastures - 1.5 - 2 tons. After fundamental improvement of these types of pastures their productivity increases in 3 -3.5 times.
Characteristics of Pasture Vegetation.Dry valley pastures are divided in 3 groups:
Dry valley pastures on areas with difficult run-offs - hollows- are characterized by the following plants Deschampsia caespitosa, Poa pratensis, Ranunculus acer, Ranunculus bulbosum, Carex:
The present situation in natural forage production. The total area of natural grasslands (Tables 15 and 16) is 2,974,800 ha (14.3 percent of the total territory) including 2,212,500 ha of improved pastures ( 24 percent of the agricultural land). Natural herbage makes up half of the pasturelands. This gives an opportunity to increase roughage production (pasture forage, silage made from under cured hay, haylage, hay and others) by improving natural grasslands.
There are large areas with natural pastures and hay in the south of the Republic: Brest region - 598,000 ha and Gomel region - 534.000 ha. The area of pasture is 1.3 times higher than the area of hay lands. Estimation of the qualitative structure of natural grasslands shows a high proportion of improved areas: 77 percent of hay lands and 72 percent of pastures. Most of these lands are in satisfactory technical and cultural condition. At the same time the degradation of natural grasslands is increasing. First of all floral completeness of natural and sown plant communities is decreasing. Negative tendencies have taken place during the last years in terms of supplying livestock with grassland forage. In 1990 grassland forage made up 59 percent of green forage, but today it has fallen to 43 percent. The efficiency of pastures and hay during the last five years has declined by 25 percent (Table 17).
This is caused by an insufficient application of mineral fertilizers, mainly nitrogenous ones (Table 18) which leads to a further loss of importance of pastures and hay in forage production.
The main direction of pasture improvement before 1990 was intensification based on the expensive inputs of drainage and application of large amounts of mineral fertilizers. Today, due to the sharp decline of state investments in improvement of natural forage lands, it has become urgent to use methods that can increase the productivity of pastures and hay lands. The Belarusian Research Institute for Improvement and Meadowland Farming has given scientific proof of resources-preserving technologies. Methods of improving pastures and hay lands are included in three alternative systems of grassland farming: technogenic mineral, biological and mixed. Various systems of hay land farming are used due to the presence of different types of natural forage, different types of material and technical possibilities of collective and state farms and their location nearby or far from industrial centres. It allows increasing productivity potential of pastures and hay lands with the least expense.
In 2000 forage production on natural and sown pastures and hay lands had decreased by 30 percent compared with 1996. Therefore it is necessary to increase production by 5 percent annually during the next six-year period. In order to ensure the planned increase it is important to receive state assistance in the supply of machinery, for improving meadowlands, and change the mineral fertilizer supply to agricultural producers. An increase in nitrogen nutrition of grasses is the most important factor for an increase in pasture and hay productivity. Most types of meadow lack nitrogen; it influences not only production processes and photosynthetic structure but also the renewal of humus in the soil. The main alternative source of nitrogen in meadow today and in future is symbiotic fixation through the use of legumes.
Use of legumes.Use of biologically fixed nitrogen in meadowland farming in all zones is the main direction that can contribute to the productivity increase on pastures and hay lands. Perennial pasture legumes in mixtures, created by rationalization of species, are able to supply up to 80-120 kg/ha of nitrogen into feeds and 150-200 kg/ha by using irrigation. Research work by Grodno State Agrarian University in this field showed that use of legumes on a pasture over 5-6 years enriches the soil with nitrogen by 200-250 kg/ha in the roots, and with humus by 7-11 t/ha which is equivalent to 40-48 t/ha of manure (in terms of nitrogen content).
Different methods of meadow improvement can be used to achieve the benefits of biological nitrogen fixation:
Weed control in pastures. Most natural pastures have been improved, but the major limiting factor is now weeds. Research shows that the density of small-stemmed weeds and coarser weeds on large areas often reaches 50,000-70,000 units per hectare and makes up to 30 percent and more of the total stand. Various weeds typical of the pastures of the country are Taraxacum, Leontodon, Rumex, Plantago and Ranunculus. They may form 100 percent of herbage cover in certain periods.
Agropyron is another typical weed which has a high regenerative ability. Increased application of nitrogen encouraged weeds in many grasslands and meadows. Carex and Juncus are dominant weeds on most natural pastures with an irregular water supply. Artemisia sometimes is very prevalent in the south of the Republic, in the Polesje (woodlands). The most recent research aims to find integrated measures of weed control. Application of herbicides with a certain fertilizer system has proved to be highly effective on weedy pastures. Pastures and hay lands with a weed burden of more than 30 percent can be ploughed and forage crops grown for a year or two.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MSHP) is the leading governmental institution which organizes and finances works on natural fodder resources. The Ministry has five departments, one of which is in charge of pasture resources. The governing body of this department inspects farming trends and supplies farms with financial support, as well as investing in the main scientific programmes.
Belarus Research Institute of Agricultural Reclamation and Grassland Science (BelNIIM&L), created in 1930, is a centre of grassland science in the Republic; Polesskaya Experimental Station, Pinsk Complex Department, Vitebsk Experimental Farm are subordinate to the institute. BelNIIM&L conducts a research programme on natural meadow-pasture lands within the limits of the republic complex project "Agrocomplex 2001". The programme is based on the following aspects:
Belarus Research Institute of Arable Farming and Fodders (BelNIIZK) coordinates research on breeding and seed production of perennial grasses and is engaged in creation of parent material and in growing new varieties (of diploid and tetraploid forms). The work on breeding new perennial forage cultivars is been carried out with Trifolium pratense, T. hybridum, T. repens, Dactylis glomerata, Festuca pratense, F. arundinacea and Galega orientalis.
The Belarus Research Institute of Experimental Botany is occupied in botanical resources on natural forage lands.
Ministries and organizations engaged in problems of pastures and hay lands:
Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Republic Belarus (MSHP), Kirova Str., 21, Minsk, Belarus, E-mail:email@example.com
Mrs. Marija Parfenovitch, Senior Pasture Research officer: range management
Ministry of Statistics and Analysis (MinStat) Partizanskii Ave., 12, Minsk, Belarus
Mr. Zinovsky Wladimir, Director
Belarus Committee on Land Resources, Geodesy and Mapping (HosKomZem), Krasnozvezdnyi Lane 12, Minsk, Belarus
Mr. Kuznetsov Georgy, Director
Belarus Research Institute of Agricultural Reclamation and Grassland Science (BelNIIM&L), Bogdanovicha Str., Minsk, Belarus
Mr. Meerowsky Anatoly, Executive Director, sustainable natural resource management
Belarus Research Institute of Experimental Botany, Akademicheskaya Str. 27, Minsk
Mr. Laman Nicolaj, Director: maintaining national herbarium
State Land Register of Republic Belarus (on January 1, 2000)
Statistical Yearbook of Republic Belarus 2000
Anon. 1997. Economic Tendencies in Belarus: Quarterly Review #1 1997, Minsk, European Expert Services, p.18-19.
Sanko P. 1983. National Meadows of Belarus, their Characteristics and Evaluation. - Minsk: Science and Techniques, - 247s.
Shklar Y. 1973. Agroclimatic Resources of Belarus. - Minsk: Urozhai, - 421 s.
The author of this paper is no longer in Belarus but can be contacted as follows:
Dr. Henrik Witkowski, Grodno, Belarus.
Fax (375152) 72-13-65
The profile was prepared in September 2001 by Dr Witkowski.
[It was edited by Mr J. Suttie and S. G. Reynolds in October 2001 and livestock numbers and livestock production statistics were updated in November 2002 and October 2006 by S.G. Reynolds].