The American Steppes: The Unexpected Russian Roots of Great Plains Agriculture, 1870s-1930s

Research output: Book/ReportBook


In the 1930s, the population of the Great Plains contained immigrants, including Mennonites, from the Russian steppes and their descendents. Many of the crop varieties, especially wheat, had been imported from the steppes. The soil of much of plains was classified by the U.S. Soil Survey, using a Russian term from the steppes, as chernozem. The U.S. Forest Service was planting shelterbelts of trees using techniques pioneered in the steppes. And tumbling across the plains was an invasive weed from the steppes: the iconic if harmful tumbleweed.

Based on archival research in the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, this book explains that the unexpected Russian roots of Great Plains agriculture were due to similarities between the grassland environments of the American plains and the Russian steppes, but mainly because the steppes were plowed up first and so there was prior experience in Russia’s grasslands for Americans to learn from.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Print)978-1-107-10360-3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2 2020

Publication series

NameStudies in Environment and History


  • Steppes
  • Great Plains
  • Environmental History
  • USA
  • Russian Empire
  • Soviet Union
  • Agriculture
  • soil science
  • forestry
  • weeds

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