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Creating and Diffusing a New Agronomic Knowledge in

Creating and Diffusing a New Agronomic Knowledge in the Northern Italy:
Agronomists, Agrarian Journals, and Agricultural Schools in Northern Italy
(from the end of 18th century to the early 20th century).
(Andrea M. Locatelli – Paolo Tedeschi)
Working Paper - Do not quote
The aim of this paper is to show the evolution of agronomical knowledge in Northern Italy
(and in particular in Lombardy) from the last decades of the 18th century (that is, in the eve of
the Napoleonic age) to the early 20th century (the “belle époque”, right before World War I).
The paper illustrates that between the late 18th and the early 19th century the landowners who
were very interested in agronomics and zootechnics had a crucial role for the improvement of
knowledge in agronomics in the Northern Italy. They were tied to the cultural circles of
European academies and associations and were used to a fruitful international mobility and
exchange with experts in the field. At the same time, they had relevant financial resources and
were able to fund their own agronomical experiments. Besides, they had a remarkable
capacity to influence the political and economic institutions in their respective milieux.
Referring to agrarian production they could also take profit by the information linked to the
new statistical surveys which progressively led to a greater focus on land productivity. During
the Napoleonic age, the new connection between public authorities and people working in the
agricultural sector and the intensive links with the new network including all European
agronomists allowed the diffusion of modern techniques in agronomics, as well as the
development of new Italian agronomical journals publishing the results of the works of
prominent experts in the field. These outputs particularly favoured the birth of new journals
publishing articles about agriculture and the development of regional networks of “experts”
involving landowners associations: it was in this context that in the first half of the 19th
century new project for vocational trainings in agronomics were thought and, starting at the
end of the 1850s, the first new agrarian schools in the northern Italy were founded.
Thanks to these latter, during the second half of the 19th century the agronomical
knowledge overcame the traditional milieu, including landowners and big tenants only, and
reached out to a great share of the people living and working in the countryside, in particular
the families of small tenants, sharecroppers and more specialised agricultural workers.
Besides the landowners’ attitudes changed: namely, the bourgeoisie progressively substituted
the nobility and this reduced the numbers of rentiers and favoured an increasing investment to
improve both the production and yields. Furthermore the arrival of new expensive
technologies obliged farmers to invest more money for purchasing new hybrid seeds,
chemical fertilizers, etc.: there were no funds for personal experiments and it was also
difficult for farmers to have all the knowledge in agronomics; physics, chemistry etc. which
was necessary with the new technologies.
The focus of new studies in agronomics varied following the effects of diseases and the
impact of the single agricultural product on the economic development of the rural areas.
Hence, for instance, it is possible detect the decline of specialised studies on silkworms and
silk production in contrast with the increase of the analyses concerning the dairy products.
New knowledge was sought for a new agriculture with a more scientific character, leaving
aside its old identity defined by the “art of growing crops”. New agricultural reviews were
now very specialize and in particular oriented to agronomists working in the university and
agrarian schools and also new bourgeois investing relevant capitals to improve the yields in
their farms.
1. The birth of the agrarian associations and new agronomical reviews between the end
of the 18th century and the mid-19th century
At the end of the Napoleonic age in the Northern Italy, some landowners and big tenants
studying agronomics were members of secret societies and participated in the riots for the
independence and so they became revolutionaries. They changed their cultural reference: the
Enlightenment thought was replaced by the ideals of Romanticism and by the nationalism
ideology. They joined to the academies in the most important towns and influenced the
political and economic milieux. They played a relevant role in the promotion of innovations,
too1. While the profession of agronomist did not exist and there were no agrarian schools,
these landowners and big tenants financed the foundation of new institutions favouring the
agricultural development and organizing and diffusing the agronomical knowledge and
creating a relationship between these institutions and economic system2. They tried to realize
the situation to be indicated by D. North: "growth of the stock of knowledge, combined with
demographic factors, with environmental contexts and institutional transformations, constitute
one of the basic elements of the process of economic change"3.
In Italy, after the end of the Napoleonic age, there were first statistical surveys concerning
the agriculture: public institutions wanted to know where there existed lack of productivity
and the reasons4. Besides, regarding what happened in France and in the German states
(where associations and academies for rural improvement rose in France with the aim of
dissemination of scientific knowledge through publications and, at the same time, some
theoretical and practical schools were founded)5. There existed some possible solutions to the
M. Sanderson, Education, Economic Change and Society in England, 1780-1870, Cambridge 1995; G. Biagioli,
R. Pazzagli (eds.), Agricoltura come manifattura. Istruzione agraria, professionalizzazione e sviluppo agricolo
nell'Ottocento, Florence 2004.
About the birth of the profession of agronomist in Italy see: C. Fumian, Gli agronomi da ceto a mestiere, in P.
Bevilacqua (ed.), Storia dell'agricoltura italiana, vol. 3, Mercati e istituzioni, Venice, 1991 pp. 345-389; L.
D’Antone, L’«intelligenza» in agricoltura. Istruzione superiore, profili intellettuali e identità professionali, in
ibid., pp. 391-426.
D.C. North, Understanding the Process of Economic Change, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2005.
About the statistical surveys concerning the agrarian productions and yields and the quality of life in the
countryside see Silvana Patriarca, Numbers and Nationhood: Writing Statistics in Nineteenth-Century Italy,
Cambridge 1996; P. Tedeschi, Les enquêtes agraires en Lombardie au XIXe siècle, in C. Marache, N. Vivier
(eds.), L’Etat et les sociétés rurales: enquêtes agricoles, enquêteurs et enquêtés en Europe du Sud aux XIXe et
XXe siècles, “Annales du Midi”, 2013, n. 284, pp. 525-541.
About the French and German examples and their influence on Italian regions see, among others, A. J. Baude,
Agronomie et agronomies en France au XVIII siècle, Paris 1967, vol. I, pp. 253-268, A Saltini, Storia delle
scienze agrarie, vol. 2, I secoli della rivoluzione agraria, vol. 3, L’età della macchina a vapore e dei concimi
industriali, Bologna 1987-1989; C. Fumian, Scienza ed agricoltura. Aspetti comparati dell’istruzione agraria
superiore in Europa (1840-1875), in E. Decleva, C.G. Lacaita, A. Ventura (eds.), Innovazione e modernizzazione
problem: new laws increasing the transfer of land from the rentiers to new landlords who
wanted to improve production and yields; the promotion of the diffusion in the country of the
knowledge in agronomics and zootechnics. So, while a new landowners increase the
investment for renewing the farms and the methods of cultivation and breeding, the most
relevant concepts in agronomics were taught to future landowners, and also to the young
tenants, sharecroppers and peasants.
The influence of the French administrative model fostered in the north of Italy some civic
and administrative plans to sustain innovation of agriculture. Moreover, the attention of the
French political system to the application of science in order to support the economic and
social development promoted the appearance in some Italian cities of reviews which
published essays by foreign authors6. The phenomenon was also in relation to the needs of the
“continental blockade” that extended the interest in the cultivation of non-native plants. The
aim was to disseminate new agronomical knowledge coming from all European countries7.
All these factors lead to the first attempt of an effective agricultural scientific knowledge
with the work of Filippo Re and his review “Annali d'agricoltura del Regno d'Italia”8. The
magazine compiled by Re played a new role for the agricultural knowledge in some regional
areas. In addition to the important contribution of Filippo Re to the renewal of agriculture and
especially in the definition of a local identity of agricultural systems, Vincenzo Dandolo's
gave a further contribution to the intensification of the relationship between technicalscientific knowledge and agricultural development. He was a member of Cisalpine
Government and a rich man who invested in an experimental farm. He translated the main
European researches for the application of chemistry to mulberry silkworm. Another example
in Italia fra Ottocento e Novecento, Milan 1995, pp. 13-55; R. Pazzagli, Il sapere dell’agricoltura. Istruzione,
cultura, economia nell’Italia dell’Ottocento, Milan 2008, pp. 17-44.
D. Brianta, I luoghi del sapere agronomico: accademie, società di agrocoltura e di arti meccaniche, orti
agrari, atenei (1802-1814), in E. Brambilla, C. Capra, A, Scotti (ed.), Istituzioni e cultura in età napoleonica,
Milan 2008, pp. 62-156; M.M. Butera, Le campagne italiane in età napoleonica. La prima inchiesta agraria
dell'Italia moderna, Milan 1982; G.C. Lacaita, Istruzione, cultura e sviluppo in Lombardia (1748-1914), in Il
paese di Lombardia, Milan, 1978, pp. 480-484.
For example, in Milan the publisher Silvestri printed the "Biblioteca di campagna" and then the "Giornale
d'agricoltura". See M. Berengo, Intellettuali e librai nella Milano della Restaurazione, Turin 1980, pp. 24-27.
About Filippo Re and his analyses concerning the “old traditional agriculture” and his aim to revalue the typical
productions of the Italian regions in contrast with the foreigner ones and in particular the “anglo-gallo mania”,
that is the preference for English and French agrarian products, see F. Re, Dizionario ragionato di libri
d'agricoltura, veterinaria e di altri rami d'economia campestre, 4 voll. Venice 1808; A. Cova, L'agricoltura
italiana in un'inchiesta di Filippo Re (1809-1813), in “Annuario del centro studi CISL”, 3 (1963-1964), pp. 147174; F. Cafassi, Le inchieste agrarie di F. Re durante il Regno italico, in “Rivista di storia dell'agricoltura”, 1970,
n. 4, pp. 359-364; R. Dotti, Filippo Re agronomo e storico dell'agricoltura. Validità del suo pensiero, in
“Bollettino Storico Reggiano”, 1972, n. 17, pp. 3-95; M.M. Butera, Le campagne italiane, op. cit., Milan 1981.
of a science writer was David Bourgeois who settled in Bologna during the Napoleonic period
and participated in the discussions on the problems of agriculture in the Po valley: he also
faced the problem of education in agronomics and zootechnics through various proposals
including the creation of "plants for experimentation" which imitated those existing in
German regions, France and Switzerland9.
During the Italian Restaurazione (that is from 1814 to 1859), there was a fall in the
agricultural prices and then a slow recovery10. The rise in agricultural prices was very
diversified from the territorial point of view and was accompanied by the appearance of some
parasitic diseases for two important productions such as sericulture and viticulture. The
situation favoured areas with an useful ecosystem naturally suited to the demands of the
European market. In this conjuncture, the mixed farming was successful with high levels of
economies of scale. At the same time, this path pushed to improve the production factors: the
conversion of production (cereals) or the renovation of techniques11. An important share of
farms did not improve their structures and so their productions normally remained stable
granting a profit for the property, but also determined a low development of agriculture and
moreover a limited investment in agronomical innovations: this depended on the
individualistic vision or alternatively related to the cultural elites. They thought that the new
agricultural knowledge could aim to change the human factor without modifying the layout of
the production and thus the conveniences created: this favoured a low level of the
investments. This situation did not change until the crisis of silkworm and viticulture in the
1850s strongly reduced the earnings of farms12.
About Dandolo et Bourgeois see L. Cafagna, La rivoluzione agraria in Lombardia, in Id, Dualismo e sviluppo
nella storia d'Italia, Venice 1989; R. Preto, Un “uomo nuovo” dell'eta Napoleonica: Vincenzo Dandolo politico
e imprenditore agricolo, in “Rivista storica italiana”, 1982, pp. 44-97; D. Bourgeois, Memoria sull'agricoltura
del Dipartimento del Reno tradotta dalla Bibliothéque Britannique, vol. 18, n.5 maggio 1813, in “Annali
dell’Agricoltura del Regno d’Italia”, 1813, n. 5, pp. 254-259.
A. De Maddalena, Prezzi e mercedi a Milano dal 1701 al 1860, Milan 1974; P. Malanima, Pre-modern
European economy: one thousand years (10th-19th centuries), Leiden 2009; M. Brioschi, P. Malanima (eds.),
Prezzi, redditi, popolazioni in Italia: 600 anni, Udine 2002; G. Federico, Feeding the world: an economic history
of agriculture 1800-2000, Oxford 2005.
At the end of the 1850s some studies began a fruitful path of research: M. Romani, L'agricoltura in Lombardia
dal periodo delle riforme al 1859, Milan 1957; L. Cafagna, La “rivoluzione agraria” in Lombardia, Milan 1959;
S. Zaninelli (ed.), Questioni di storia agricola lombarda nei secoli XVIII-XIX: le condizioni dei contadini, le
produzioni e l'azione pubblica, Milan 1979; L. Faccini (ed.), Agricoltura e condizioni di vita dei lavoratori
agricoli lombardi (1835-1839). Inchiesta Karl Czoering, Milan 1986.
S. Zaninelli, Evoluzione agricola italiana ed evoluzione delle conoscenze grarie nell’Italia dell’Ottocento, in
Id. (ed.), Le conoscenze agrarie e la loro diffusione in Italia nell'Ottocento, Torino, Giappicchelli, 1990, pp. 116; Id. (ed.), L’Ottocento economico italiano, Bologna 1991, pp. 31-47, 54; F. Della Peruta (ed.), La proprietà
fondiaria e le popolazioni agricole in Lombardia: studi economici di S. Jacini, Milan 1996, pp. 12-15 and 34-35.
However there existed some farms where some relevant efforts were realized during the
Italian Restaurazione and they in particular focused on three aspects: the improvements of
silkworm in Northern Italy, the olive-growing and the development of viticulture and more
attention to modern equipment grew in several areas. The cereal-growing areas reduced the
effects of the crisis. Other farms were able to grant more products and reduced the unit costs
and so they spared by the crisis: in some rural areas farms made renewal efforts focused on
the technical aspects and this allowed the producers to face the negative trends. In particular
there were some areas with a more favourable relationship with the market (in particular the
irrigated Lombard) where the good economic results were also linked to the effort of
landowners and tenants for improving their knowledge in agronomics. So, while in backward
farms a part the innovations discussed and developed in the 1830s and 1840s knew a real
application only after the “great agrarian crisis” of the 1880s, in the best farms important
innovations were able to take off before the half of the century. These cases had a relevant
influence on the surrounding environment and increased the production and yields and also in
the area where the contracts of sharecropping reduced, in absence of rural banks financing
sharecroppers, the investments for modernizing the farms.
During the Italian Restaurazione the ruling classes also began to discuss of economics and
of technical progress introduced in the other European countries13. Giovan Pietro Vieusseux in
Tuscany, Francesco Lampato in Lombardia, Pomba and Rocco Ragazzoni in Piedmont
represented examples of intense activity in the dissemination and implementation of
agronomic knowledge with a European background. Besides, they also involved some cultural
initiatives (magazines, conferences and meetings of scientists) that were the most important
moments of a knowledge network that grew between the twenties and 1848. Among the
twenties and forties, the attention turned to crop rotations and cultivation of “industrial
plants”'. In the Northern Italy, the debate about the scientific improvement of agriculture
system and the update knowledge in academies in the biggest town (as Turin, Milan and
Padua) shifted in the agrarian societies of the province and in the farms where landowners
allowed some agricultural experiments. Besides, this situation favoured specialist reviews
with a pragmatic approach. These magazines had an international attitude. The scientific
publications were usually together with those literary. The appearance of agricultural reviews
A. Quadrio Curzio (ed.), Economisti e economia. Per un'Italia europea, paradigmi tra il XVIII e il XX secolo,
Bologna 2007, pp. 212-214.
arrived in all northern capitals as Milan and Turin: moreover, the phenomenon appeared also
in smaller towns as Piacenza, Bologna and Forlì14.
The birth of new reviews about a lot of items including agronomics and zootechnics was
connected to the network of associations (called athenaums or academies too) which had
arisen during the Napoleonic period and remained so until the early Fifties. Initially they were
associations for “fun” and socializing and they had an identity of class, too (for example in
Milan, the “Casinò dei Nobili” and the “Società del Giardino”). At the beginning of the
second Habsburg domination, the Austrian power sustained the development of associational
life and it didn't consider its subversive potential. Since twenties "association of content"
developed in Milan15. An archetype was the Società per l'incoraggiamento delle scienze, delle
lettere e delle arti, led by Heinrich Mylius, which had the explicit aim of applying science to
the social and economic life. One of the most influential members of the aristocracy, Federico
Confalonieri, wanted a transformation in a Polytechnic16.
This people explicitly drew on experiences in English and French farms and it affirmed the
civic mission with a size of association no more elitist. They shared their information and
knowledge and so "the knowledge travelled together with the products and channels of
commerce, intellectual outlining a circuit through which the exchange of knowledge between
the European agrarian system and the rest of Tuscany and Italy”17. The issue is if this
exchange of knowledge and experience was only a intellectual network or a practical
relationship with economic effects. To achieve this problem is useful to analyze the forms of
transmission from the theoretical to the operational front. There was a closer relationship
between owners, farmers and peasants and this link required training and education. In the
eighteenth century, the public and private initiative existed together, while in the nineteenth
century liberal and romantic thought fostered the individual initiative. Besides, the emphasis
was on the practical application rather than on the experimentation with a detachment from
the teachings of the old chairs of rural economy or of the manuals with an encyclopedic
S. Romagnoli, Un secolo di stampa periodica in Italia (1815-1915), in S. Soldani, G.. Turi (eds.), Fare gli
italiani. Scuola e cultura nell'Italia contemporanea, I, La nascita dello Stato nazionale, Bologna, Il Mulino,
1993, pp. 305-339; M. Petrusewicz, Agromania: innovatori agrari nelle periferie europee dell'Ottocento, in P.
Bevilacqua (ed.), Storia dell'agricoltura italiana, vol. 3, op. cit. pp. 330-335.
M. Meriggi, Milano borghese. Circoli ed élites nell'Ottocento, Venice 1992, pp. 52-150.
R. Cambria, Federico Confalonieri, il “Conciliatore” e la Lombardia della Restaurazione. Studi e discussioni,
in “Archivio Storico Lombardo”, 1990, pp. 401-487; C.G. Lacaita, L'intelligenza produttiva. Imprenditori,
tecnici e operai nella Società d'incoraggiamento d'Arti e Mestieri di Milano (1838-1898), Milan 1990, pp. 5780; K.R. Greenfield, Economia e liberalismo nel Risorgimento, Bari 1940.
R. Pazzagli, Il sapere dell'agricoltura, op. cit., Milan 2008, p. 121.
identity. The professional profile of the students took some relief by highlighting the problem
of the effective contribution of schools to farms. The labour market partly remained
traditional (factors, rural agents, directors) but it also opened new professionals as agricultural
technicians or teachers at faculty of agriculture.
Since 1837, the so-called "agricultural meetings" began in Tuscany. They were annual
congresses, already practiced in other parts of Europe. The third meeting at Meleto coincided
with the first Congress of the Italian Scientists which collected all of the scientific thinking
applied in Italy. According to the historians of science, this type of conference sustained the
formation of a modern scientific community with relations abroad. The movement of new
scientific theories came quickly and, for example, the Liebig's agricultural chemistry were
known in Italy as early as the 1840s. In Lombardy, the first draft of a regional association for
rural issues (the “Società agraria lombarda”) took shape in 1846 thanks to the work of the
"agronomy and technology" committee of Italian Scientits Congress. The Alessandro Porro
and Anselmo Guerneri's project affirmed an explicit reference to the Subalpine agrarian
association. The failure of a regional association for agriculture was due to the critical of the
group promoting the new Society to the Habsburg. The association could become political
opposition as well as some reviews: they represented the movement in favour of the Italian
independence and so they were sometimes censured.
In Milan a lot of scientific journals had a great development and, since the 1820s they
presented an extensive collection of foreign articles18. The “Annali di tecnologia, agricoltura,
economia rurale" (born in Milan in 1826) published essays and articles about rural issues and
also pointed out some particular themes of agriculture. For example there were debates on the
relation between textile manufacture and agriculture or use of common land. Between 1820
and 1824 the “Giornale di agricoltura, arti e commercio” presented an overview of the main
agricultural innovations and many of these came from Europe. In 1834, the " Annali di
tecnologia" turned into "Giornale agrario lombardo-veneto" and, at the same time, economic
newspapers were born as "L' Eco della Borsa", "Il Termometro mercantile e d'industria" and
"L'economista. Giornale di agricoltura, tecnica pratica, contabilità, amministrazione,
tecnologia”. This last was born in 1842 and was the magazine of the Istituto di agricoltura e
tecnica agraria in Milan. Besides, the editor of “L' Eco” offered a reading room in the centre
Several scientific journals reached an appreciable diffusion as the " Annali universali di Medicina" directed by
Francesco Lampato who was in a short time a major publisher. "L'Indicatore lombardo" and the "Rivista
europea" became the journals of the opposition to the Habsbourg.
of Milan, where it was possible to consult many European newspapers and compare the
situation of the Lombard agriculture with the European ones.
At the end of 1830s, the “Annali universali di tecnologia, agricoltura, economia rurale”
(then “Giornale agrario lombardo-veneto”), the “Giornale agrario toscano” (born in Florence
in 1827), and the “Repertorio di agricoltura” (born in Turin in 1828), were the major
expressions of Italian agronomical reviews and they shared the results of the experiments
made by their collaborators and readers19. The agricultural journalism was accompanied by an
increasingly wide debate on the need to establish centres of education and experimentation.
During the 1840s, the great intellectual, scientific and political magazines played a significant
role with an European dimension. At the same time, the number of periodicals on agriculture
grew and continued the exchange of essays between the main titles. In many cases the articles
of a newspaper faced the problem of a compromise between knowledge from abroad and the
local agricultural conditions. In Milan, some magazines were organs of agricultural colleges.
It may be noted in this regard, "L'economista" (1842-1847) as official review of an institute of
agricultural education that despite the short duration proved important for the revival of
agriculture in Lombardy. The year 1848 represented an abrupt halt for several publishing
experiences but the most widely survived. Between 1819 and 1859, the influence of French
and English models is evident, while the topics are spinning flax and hemp, forests on
common lands, fertilization of land, veterinary medicine, mulberry from the Philippines,
artificial lawns, viticulture and wine, the scientific progress with statistics. Many of the essays
had a dual cultural matrix. They were an expression of a pragmatic and empirical reformism
derived, in some cases, from the age of the Enlightenment. Technical improvements were the
application of scientific knowledge that aimed to improve the quality and gradually the
productivity, too. On another side, the publishers of these magazines aimed to compare the
European experience with local models: many proposals were been aimed at enhancing
cultural practices and customs in comparison with the models of northern Europe.
2. Some regional cases of agrarian education during the Italian Restaurazione
The analysis of Piedmont path is important to learn about the transmission of knowledge in
Italian agriculture and its relations with the rest of Europe. In 1785 an Academy of agriculture
was founded in Turin to promote agricultural education. The Agricultural Society possessed
G. Fumi, Fonti per la storia dell'agricoltura italiana (1840-1849), Milano, Vita e Pensiero, 2003; A. Moioli,
L'economia italiana preunitaria: Lombardia (1700-1859): l'editoria milanese, Milano 1974.
an experimental garden. During the Napoleonic era agrarian associations were formed in other
cities of Piedmont. The “experimental garden” of Turin became famous for the activity of its
director Matteo Bonafous (from 1823 to 1851). Bonafous was a typical exponent of the
reformer elite with transnational relations. He resided at Turin, he had been a student in
Chambery and then in Paris, graduated in Montpellier, the family of origin was in Lyon where
he had a trading company for silk. Bonafous worked especially for the improvement of
silkworm farming and for maize growing20.
During the Italian Resturazione, some landowners were able to activate a wild extended
network of knowledge and relationships that fostered a debate around issues of agricultural
progress. The great attention of “specialist journalism” to the experiences in other Italian and
European states: the Swiss institute of Hofwyl, the first agricultural schools in France and the
Agricultural Institute of Meleto in Tuscany21. In 1828, one of the scientists involved in the
editorial staff of “Propagatore”, Rocco Ragazzoni, who also taught physics and chemistry at
the Royal Military Academy, founded the “Repertorio di agricoltura pratica e di economia
domestica”: the main aim of the review was the diffusion of agrarian knowledge to peasants.
The sale of national assets pushed towards the improvement of agriculture. During the
1830s and 1840s, new farmers invested in machinery (plows and espici) and new types of
plants. With the government of Cavour, the Piedmont developed an efficient water supply and
sanitation as well as facilitated the adoption of new fertilizer as guano. During this period, the
production with a major development was the cultivation of rice in the Vercelli; viticulture
had a renewed expansion with the experiences of Giovanni Lanza, Gancia, Cinzano, Carpano.
They pointed to modernize the viticulture in the hills of Asti. Even in the plain of Cuneo and
Turin operators introduced continuous rotation, the lawn irrigation and livestock. On the
social level, the hill that is the dry plains, had known a process for revocation of tenant
farmers and sharecroppers in favour of an expansion of the capitalist and the small property
with a large spread of the mulberry tree. Berti Pichat, member of the Carbonari society, left
Bologna and stayed ten years in Piedmont as representative of intensive agricultural adviser.
Even in Piedmont, the relationship between ownership and political élite affirmed the growth
of the agrarian schools to improve the yield22.
P. Caroli, P. Corti, C. Pischedda (eds.), L'agricoltura in Piemonte nell'Ottocento, Turin 1991, pp. 54-58.
E. Passerin d'Entreves, Stato, cultura e società civile nel Piemonte della prima metà dell'Ottocento, in “Studi
piemontesi”, 6, 1977, pp. 104-107.
C. Berti Pichat, L'applicazione delle scienze in agricoltura, in S. Zaninelli (ed.), Scritti teorici e tecnici di
agricoltura, III, Dall'Ottocento agli inizi del Novecento, Milan 1992, pp. 17-18.
The example of the European experiences was the explicit reference for both the
organization and for the content of vocational training. In 1840, the French agronomist
Edouard Lecouteux (caming from Institute of Agriculture at Grignon-France) had the teaching
of agronomy at the “Società Biellese per l'avanzamento delle arti, dei mestieri e
dell'agricoltura”. Later, Lecouteux will become the director of the National Agronomic
Institute of Versailles. At the same time, some "innovators" talked about the role of model
farms and the effectiveness of testing of individuals to spread emulation with the best
knowledge and techniques. Cavour also participated to the debate between the proponents of
state intervention and the advocates of private interest as a factor of innovation. He affirmed
the important role of private entrepreneurship. Between 1843-1844 the "Gazzetta
dell'associazione agraria” and then the "Repertorio di agricoltura" and the "Giornale agrario
lombardo-veneto" published several speeches on this subject.
The public action of the 1840s had success: the organization of rallies in the foundation of
the agrarian and agricultural - forestry of Venaria (close to Torino). This experimental farm
went to join the experience of local Sandigliano23. In the fifties, the policy of a minor
intervention culminated in the abolition of the Ministry of agriculture: no theoretical but
practical school "in teaching in schools and physical sciences applied to agriculture." Later
the new Kingdom of Italy with the Casati's Act adopted the same model regarding of public
education for agrarian topics. The new system included a special course in National colleges;
the transformation of the Royal Technical Institute in the School of application with a
professor of agronomy. At first, the chair was occupied by Giovanni Borio. In the work of
Borio, like that of almost all the teachers of nineteenth century agriculture, there was the
search for a closer link between science and cultivation (for example is studying the chemistry
of Justus von Liebig). In 1859 Quintino Sella wanted a specialized academy for engineers the
(“Scuola di applicazione per ingegneri”) with a course profile of "agrarian and rural
economy." The institutionalization of the engineer training, however, was a European
phenomenon and in Italy engineers progressively became fundamental for managing and
controlling the water for the irrigation of land24.
R. Gobbo, Innovazione agraria nel podere sperimentale di Sandigliano (1841-1851), in “Studi e ricerche sul
Biellese”, 2001, pp. 145-166.
G. Borio, Lezioni di agricoltura dette nel Regio Istituto tecnico di Torino, Turin 1853; A. Giuntini, M. Minesso
(eds.), Gli ingegneri in Italia tra '800 e '900, Milan 1999; G. Bigatti, La provincia delle acque. Ambiente,
territorio e ingegneri in Lombardia tra Sette e Ottocento, Milan 1995.
According to the most authoritative scholars of the time (as Carlo Cattaneo, Giovanni
Borio and Stefano Jacini) the tenants had to take courses in engineering. In 1862, the
Industrial Museum, referring to the Paris Conservatoire d'Arts et Metiers and the South
Kensington Museum English, presented and showed the experience of machines and tools.
The “cotton exhibition” in 1864 had a section of agricultural mechanics. The final event was
in 1869: the foundtion of a School of Agriculture conducted by Gaetano Cantoni. The Scuola
di applicazione per ingegneri and the Industrial Musuem co-existed with strong relations until
1906 when they formed the Polytechnic of Turin. Experiences of education were also initiated
in Casale Monferrato, Vercelli, Asti, Pinerolo and Voghera. In the 1850s, Giuseppe Antonio
Ottavi was considered one of the most famous Italian agronomists and he published the
review "Il Coltivatore"25. The school of Casale included a series of initiatives with outlets of
seeds, trees and tools, or the manufacture of pipes for drainage. The overall objective was to
"artificially push agrarian training from the center to the periphery". The Piedmont had a
public institution to implement the most significant actions regarding to the teaching of
agricultural techniques.
The agriculture of the area between the Po and the Apennines had always occupied a
prominent place in Italian agriculture systems. Arthur Young described as the best-managed
lands. Filippo Re proposed farms of Bologna area to the Lombard agronomists. The flat areas
of the Duchy of Parma, Modena and the papal legations represented territories with a strong
spread of the "new agriculture"26 (extension of the lawn, spread of hemp in Bologna, presence
of arable land with trees, usual called "planted", the presence of rice paddy and meadows)27.
The contractual relations were based mainly on sharecropping: their remuneration depended
on the harvest and they worked following the direct management of the landowners28. In this
area, a growth of attention to the issues of agricultural experimentation and education which
were developed during the first half of the nineteenth century. Filippo Re worked between
Reggio Emilia and Bologna. He played a decisive role to strengthen the bond between
agronomy and property classes that will be the hallmark of the most active Italian agricultural
entrepreneurship. He was professor of agronomics at the University of Bologna. In Piacenza,
When Cosimo Ridolfi, one of the most Italian expert in agronomics, visited this school, he wrote: "the agrarian
plant is a small thing ... Prof. Ottavi has his lessons with some success and publishes a newspaper, and
occasionally popular pamphlets with which he spreads good principles of agronomy".
P.L. Spaggiari, L'agricoltura negli Stati parmensi dal 1750 al 1859, Milan 1966.
S. Franzoni, L'insegnamento dell'agricoltura nel dibattito della Società agraria di Bologna, in R. Finzi (ed.),
Fra studio, politica ed economia: La Società agraria dalle origini all'età giolittiana, Bologna 1992, pp. 117-123.
L. Dal Pane, Economia e società a Bologna nell'età del Risorgimento, Bologna 1969.
Gian Francesco Bugoni supervised the publication of the "Archivi dell'agricoltore e del
contadino” and planned a centre of agricultural experimentation. In the heart of Lower
Romagna, the Swiss Elio Victor Bejamin Crud managed an experimental farm at Massa
Lombarda, which passed to the financier Jean Gabriel Eynard from Geneva. The Baron Crud
had a role in the divulgation of knowledge at European level with the French translation of
Thaer's book on the economic theory and practice of the agriculture. In the town of Piacenza,
the efforts of agriculturists were sustained by the public institutions: the agriculture section of
the Chamber of Commerce decided to engage in the “chairs of agriculture”.
In the region of the Tre Venezie (Veneto, Friuli, Trentino) matured an organic conception
of vocational training for agrarians: for example, the Academy of Udine (1842) and the
Agricultural Academy of Verona (1846). These projects were addressed primarily to the
governments and the policy makers but agricultural school had only partial and short
implementation in Piedmont and were rejected by the Austrian Government. The “Istituto
veneto di scienze, lettere e arti”, the “Società d'incoraggiamento di Padova” and the
Associazione agraria del Friuli” were all established or revitalized between 1840 and 1848.
These entities added to the old Academy of Verona and Vicenza. After long discussions,
during the forties, education projects were implemented.
In the lagoon areas and in the Po Delta, the marsh and the arable lands were in large firms,
managed by business renters or directly by the owners. The herbaceous-arboreal cultivation
was relevant with sharecropping contracts or leases mixed in the rest of the territory29. The
mountain had a particular picture with the spread of small possession and the great
importance of the forest land to pasture30. However, the Venetian lively environment was a
hotbed of failed attempts. Some of the most significant results were achieved in Friuli during
the 1840s. Agriculture concentrated in the plains between the end of the lagoon and the
foothills of the Alps with the spread of maize and mulberry for silkworms. The Associazione
agraria del Friuli led by Conte Gherardo Freschi predisposed the project for agricultural
education in public schools. Freschi claimed also a leading role in the Congress of Italian
Scientists31. In San Vito al Tagliamento the magazine "L'amico del contadino" recorded a
good degree of diffusion and in the same area the magazine "Istruzioni ai giovani agricoltori"
G. Scarpa, L'agricoltura del Veneto nella prima metà del XIX secolo. L'utilizzazione del suolo, Torino 1963.
A. Bernardello, Burocrazia, borghesia e contadini nel Veneto austriaco, in “Studi storici”, 1976, pp. 127-152.
C. Zanier (ed.), Una figura di statista europeo tra ricerca scientifica e operare concreto. Gherardo Freschi
(1804-1893), Pordenone 1998.
was published. Besides, the Sunday schools for the dissemination of agricultural knowledge
were expected. A real school of agriculture was established in Trieste. The private operators
intensified the efforts for a school of rural economy but their project was opposed by the
University of Padua and the Habsburg government.
In Lombardy, the agricultural college was developed later, in spite of the optimal
productive condition and also the teaching of agronomics at the Faculty of Engineering of the
University of Pavia (Joseph Boyle Borelle) had no relevant effects. The debate was relevant
but most of the protagonists did not believe in education and did not collaborate at the
establishment of agrarian schools: they thought that peasants did not need a formal education
in agronomics because they had no possibility to use it, that is it was not possible for them to
change their social class and work in their property land32. In Lombardy the centres of
education did not have a great success; the type of agrarian structure fostered individuals to
access the information. Moreover, in Lombardy many owners did not believe in innovative
models. However, some experiences developed: the “Istituto commerciale di Cavenago”
(1835-1848) had courses of agronomy: there were lessons of theoretical and practical
agriculture including exercises in a botanical garden and in 100 acres of farmland: Antonio
Cassano had lessons with the collaboration of Felice Dossena. The course of agronomy spoke
of sericoltura and animal farming. In the lessons of “rural managing” teachers emphasized the
production for the market. In addition, the farmer had to be a master of the owner directives
(against the wishes of farmers to maximize the soil). The institute also published the reviews
"L'economista" (1842-1847).
In Milan, the discussions on the improvement of agricultural techniques were considered
more relevant than the establishment of schools in the agricultural literature (e.g. publishers as
Anton Fortunato Stella, “Biblioteca agraria”, and Francesco Lampato, “Giornale agrario
lombardo-veneto”). An official inquiry of the Austrian government (1839-40) on agricultural
contracts noticed a clear landowners’ aim to preserve the status quo. Moreover, several
owners demanded a strengthening of education agrarian structures in the provinces,
agricultural courses in seminaries, the establishment of agricultural rallies (controlled by the
owners) and, finally, the study of agriculture in orphanages. All of these activities was to
G. Bigatti, Dalla cattedra alla scuola. L'istruzione agraria in Lombardia (1802-1868), in G. Biagioli, R.
Pazzagli (eds.), Agricoltura come manifattura, op. cit., vol. II, pp. 322-327; F. Fagiani, Le aree d'agricoltura
asciutta dell'Italia centro-settentrionale di fronte alle proposte della nuova agricoltura nella prima metà
dell'Ottocento, “Rivista di storia dell'agricoltura”, 26, 1, 1986, pp. 73-101; Failla O., Fumi G. (eds.), Gli
agronomi in Lombardia dalle cattedre ambulanti ad oggi, Milan 2006.
remain to private management with individual initiatives. The attention to the dissemination
of knowledge through agricultural schools and training centres was strong among the cultural
and professional associations, as well as in the Lombard scientific community (e.g. Ferrante
Aporti in Cremona provided a draft of agricultural college with elementary education).
Moreover, the Società d'incoraggiamento delle arti e dei mestieri (born in Milan in 1838) was
interested in agronomics and zootechnics. During the Congress of Italian scientists, which
was held in Milan in 1844, the supporters of the implementation of agricultural schools
confronted with those, that referring to the Piedmont pattern, pointed to testing and emulation
of the "model farms". The scientific community criticized the institutional and associative
experiences of Piedmont and Tuscany.
The experiment of a school-business as that of the Corte del Palasio in Lombardy
highlighted the whole question on agrarian education and the relationship between
agricultural science and agricultural practice, including vocational training and moralization
of lands. The activity in Corte del Palasio immediately had a lot of problem to combine
education and business33. The school came to have 70 students from every part of Italy but, at
the same time, recorded a continual contrast between the promoters of the Association and its
shareholders who protested because they did not received money for their investment. In this
experience the connection between theory and practice decreased and the school relegated to a
subordinate position. The experience of Palasio was linked to the project of an Lombard
Agricultural Institute with four objectives: the overcoming of the classic uses existing in the
Lombard countryside; the preservation of the diversity of regional agriculture and the
improvement of the best cultivations; the development of a network of farms models to show
how production and yields could increase thanks to the using of the new techniques of
farming; the vocational training of owners and tenants and sharecroppers children to improve
their professional skills and so the real productivity of the labour factor. The project was to
connect education and innovation, taking into account the specificities of the different
agricultural models. The problems arose for the competition between profitability of
agricultural funds and the efficiency of the school. However, the experience was not useless.
A few years later, in 1870, the Royal School of Agriculture was founded in Milan (thanks to
the financial support of the Municipality, the Province and the state): the example of Corte del
Palasio was followed without the need to grant some money for private investors.
S. Zaninelli, L'insegnamento agrario in Lombardia: la scuola di Corte del Palasio, in Studi in onore di
Amintore Fanfani, VI, Milan 1962, pp. 508-558.
4. The second half of the 19th century and the birth of the new agrarian schools
Until the half of the 19th century the articles published in reviews (or in the proceedings of
the conferences that academies and athenaums organized)34 represented the main way for the
diffusion of information about agronomics and zootechnics. They gave news about trends and
perspectives of the regional and European markets and suggestions concerning investments in
agriculture. People writing in these reviews were normally landowners and farmers and they
were not afraid to show their “secrets” concerning the methods they used for tilling, planting,
fertilizing, breeding etc.: because they thought that the advantages for their properties granted
by the “diffusion of the information” were superior to the possible losses caused by the
increase of the competition on the agrarian markets. The demand for farming products in fact
grew up and the reduction of the costs for transport which was related to new technologies
was not enough for increasing the level of competition in the European markets: moreover,
their farms had the perspective to widen their sales because, even if the prices remained
stable, there was the increasing of the demand which was related to the grow up of the general
incomes in Europe and the positive demographic trend. Besides there were no patents for new
methods of rotation and cultivation and this evidently favoured their diffusion. Furthermore,
when the innovation was represented by new agrarian machines or equipment there were no
problem for people who tried to copy them: they were not so complicated and there did not
exist a real international market for these products. Some small variations allowed to create a
new machine and no inventor could control all European countryside and verify if a farmers
had copied, integrally or partially, his machine without permission. Finally, in the countryside
there existed a relevant resistance against the investment in new technologies concerning
innovative process and new technologies: a lot of farmers preferred to continue to follow the
“fathers’ tradition” and so the sharing of information (and “secrets”) actually concerned few
landowners and big tenants. This was an evident limit for the diffusion of the agricultural
knowledge and the improvement of the farming, but it also granted to people writing in the
reviews that the concurrence did not increase35.
See for example C. Vanzetti, L’Accademia di agricoltura scienze e lettere di Verona 1768-1989, Verona 1990;
P. Tedeschi, L’Ateneo e gli studi d’agricoltura nell’Ottocento, in S. Onger (ed.), L’Ateneo di Brescia (18022002). Atti del Convegno Storico per il Bicentenario di fondazione dell’Ateneo di scienze, lettere e arti di
Brescia, Brescia 2004, pp. 227-275.
About the factors favouring the growth of agrarian productions and yields in the European agriculture during
the 19th centuries it exists a wide bibliography. See in particular D. Grigg, Population Growth and Agrarian
During the second half of the 19th century a lot of changes and innovations involving the
landowners, the rural markets, the technologies used in the farming and the products which
had the highest value added. After the oidium the pebrine which arrived in the 1850s, new
diseases concerning the vines and the silkworm arrived and obliged the farmers to invest more
money for renewing their vineyards and modifying the silkworm breeding: because of the
diaspis pentagona and the phyllossera the new vines only remained in the best and more
expensive land in the hills and, at the same time, new more resistant silkworms arriving from
the Asia were bred. This means that landowners and tenants had less money for their
experiments. Besides, the great agrarian crisis of the market of cereals during the 1870s (in
Italy, 1880s) strongly reduced the earnings of the farms and modified the expectations of
farms: the competition in the market grew up and reduced the “aptitude” of landowners to
communicate the new strategies for improving quality and quantity to the competitors.
Furthermore, the landowners normally could not spend too much money to make their
agricultural experiments, but after the 1870s the technological evolution increased the costs
concerning the research in agronomics: so few people had the necessary funds and only new
company investing a lot of money could make a profitable research. New hybrid seeds and
chemical fertilizers and agrarian machines were now protected by patents and this obviously
limited the sharing of the agronomics knowledge: this latter could concern the use of new
technologies in the farming, but not their production because companies obviously wanted to
earn by the sales of their new products. Besides the high level of technologies involved people
with a high a high degree of education, that is some scientists working in university or high
schools: it was very difficult for landowners to have both capitals for relevant investment in
farms and the agronomical knowledge for new expensive experiments. At the same time the
aristocratic people, who represented until the half of the 19th century the greatest share of
landowners, progressively sold (or rented) their land to bourgeois investors who disposed of
much money and were disposed to realize large investments in order to obtain incomes
Change. An historical perspective, Cambridge 1980, pp. 147-235; P. Bairoch, Les trois révolutions agricoles du
monde développé: rendements et productivité de 1800 à 1985, in “Annales ESC”, 1989, n. 2, pp. 317-353. For
the problem of the resistance of landowners and big tenants against the introduction of innovations see, in the
Northern Italy, the case of Lombardy in M. Romani, L’agricoltura lodigiana e la “nuova agricoltura” nel ‘700,
in “Archivio storico lombardo”, 1958, n. 85, pp. 184-204; S. Zaninelli, Una grande azienda agricola nella
pianura irrigua lombarda nei secoli XVIII e XIX, Milan 1964; P. Tedeschi, I frutti negati: assetti fondiari,
modelli organizzativi, produzioni e mercati agricoli nel Bresciano durante l’età della Restaurazione (18141859), Brescia 2006. About the elites’ attutudes and their agronomical networks see L. Coda, Ceti intellettuali e
problemi economici nell’Italia risorgimentale, Cagliari 2001, pp. 15-46; R. Pazzagli, Una rete per la conoscenza
dei problemi agricoli nell'Italia ottocentesca. I giornali, le gite e le riunioni agrarie (1815-1848), in “Memoria e
Ricerca”, 1994, pp. 21-46.
comparable to those which they could obtain by means of financial bonds or investing capitals
in manufactures. Their farms were normally managed by tenants or by an expert in the
administration of the farm who organized the workforce: even if they appreciated the
improvement of the peasants’ knowledge in agronomics and so they favoured the birth of the
agrarian schools, new landlords (lawyers, notaries, doctors etc.) were not interested in
agronomics and had no time for making experiments in their farms and participating to the
debate in the agrarian reviews.
In this situation there was a limited space for generic reviews concerning more different
items (as literature and sciences and agronomics etc.): on the contrary it was necessary to
publish new reviews having a high level of specialization36. So the number of agricultural
reviews was reduced and moreover it changed the writers of the articles: landowners and
priests and professionals (lawyers, notaries, doctors etc.) were progressively substituted by
scientists working in universities and in the new agrarian schools. The “old protagonists” of
the European network founded in the first half of the century were substituted by some “real
agronomists” who worked on agronomics and normally they had no farms to manage in their
patrimony. So new reviews had new readers: there were very few people having the “hobby”
of the agronomics and zootechnics and a lot of agronomists, students and people (landowners
and big tenants) investing relevant capitals for modernizing their farms and obtaining a high
profit (that is at the same level granted by the investments in the industrial sector). At the
same time, new institutions in favour of the agricultural development had to be created and
the public authorities had to pay for overcoming the lack of private financing linked to the
negative economic trend.
The Italian Kingdom did not reduce taxes on land and this favoured in the northern Italy
the sales of land belonging to rentiers: at the same time the public financing in favour of the
diffusion of agronomical knowledge increased. The public authorities (together to new
associations including landowners and big tenants which had new aims and in particular the
For example it was impossible to continue the publication of “L’amico dell’agricoltore. Almanacco
Veterniario”, a review about zootechnics and pastures which was also an almanac, or of .”Il mutuo soccorso” the
journal which substituted “Giornale Agrario Lombardo-Veneto”. At the same time a new review as “L’Italia
Agricola” was born in 1869 “for the moral and economic improvement of the rural people”: it published articles
of the most relevant Italian agronomists (in particular after the fusion in 1891 with the “Giornale di agricoltura,
industria e commercio del Regno d’Italia” edited in Bologna). See E. Braga, La modernizzazione
dell’agricoltura italiana: il contributo de l’«Italia Agricola» (1869-1894), in E. Decleva, C.G. Lacaita, A.
Ventura (eds.), Innovazione e modernizzazione in Italia fra Ottocento e Novecento, Milan 1995, pp. 167-190.
improvement of the farm earnings for their members)37 created in most of provinces a new
agrarian institution, the Comizio Agrario, which had to develop the studies concerning
agronomics, zootechnics and sylviculture and in general all activities having the aim to
develop the agriculture. So the Comizio Agrario had to promote and partially finance the
reclamation, irrigation, reforestation, the improvement of pastures, breeding techniques and
productive system in the dairy sector: besides, it created a special cooperative charged to give
farmers new chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds at a low price. New federative structures
were also founded: e.g; the Società Agraria di Lombardia which organized and coordinated
the activity of a part of the new institution which were born in Lombardy (and this obviously
favoured the attempt of the aims of these latter)38.
The birth of the Comizio Agrario also helped new landowners and big tenants to realize
their projects about the peasants’ education in agronomics. Thanks to the public funds they
could attempt their main goal, that is the training of a new class of peasants with better
agrarian knowledge: the improvement of the peasants’ know how could allow new farms of
the Northern Italy to improve their yields and, at the same time, reduce the production costs
thanks to the new professional skills of the most of people working in the countryside.
Besides, the better education in agronomics also allowed the using of the modern innovations
(as agrarian machines, chemicals fertilizers and hybrid seeds) which gradually arrived during
the second half of the 19th century.
Even if some agrarian schools did not have the results that founders expected and were
closed (as in the case of Corte del Palasio), the new institutions dedicated to the improvement
of the professional skills of young tenants, sharecroppers and peasant progressively registered
a relevant achievement (as in the cases of the Scuola di Agricoltura della Bornata in the
outskirts of Brescia in the Eastern Lombardy, the Istituto Agrario of San Michele all’Adige in
Trentino etc.). The agrarian schools received public funding and private financing (in
particular legacies) who progressively allowed to enlarge the laboratories, the rooms for
lessons, the lodgements for students and, furthermore, it allowed to organize new trainings in
About the new associations including new landowners and big tenants see A. Caracciolo, Associazionismo
agrario e ricerca di ‘consenso’ nell’economia e nella società prefasciste, in A. Caracciolo, F. Socrate (eds.),
Istituzioni agrarie nel decollo industriale, in “Quaderni storici”, 1977, n. 3, pp. 645-660; F. Socrate, L’organizzazione
padronale agraria nel periodo giolittiano, ibid., pp. 661-682, P. Corti, Fortuna e decadenza dei comizi agrari,
ibid., pp. 738-758.
About the Società Agraria di Lombardia see: E. Braga, Diffusione delle tecniche e divulgazione scientifica: il
ruolo della Società agraria di Lombardia dal 1863 alla crisi agraria, in S. Zaninelli (ed.), Le conoscenze
agrarie, op. cit., pp. 69-84; D. Brianta, Agricoltura, credito e istruzione. La Società Agraria di Lombardia dal
1862 al 1914, Bologna 1994.
agronomics and zootechnics and in dairy technology. After the negative experience of Corte
del Palasio these new schools did not have the problem to remunerate the private capitals:
public authorities and private people financed them with the aim of the improvement of the
agriculture in the northern Italy and they only controlled that the money was correctly used
and there were no squandering. Nobody expected that the investments in agrarian schools
could be profitable in the short term: on the contrary, if the level of education and the
diffusion of the knowledge in agronomics were high, the quality of labour factor and the
production and the yields in the farms employing the graduates could increase a lot in the
medium term. At the same time a relevant change in the nature of the agrarian vocational
trainings was evident: the agrarian schools were now included in the new Italian education
system and this explained the financing but also the control made by the public authorities.
In these schools, students had to know how to manage a farm and to estimate the value of
the rural real estate, and the accountability and all agrarian contracts and laws. The
experiments concerning cereals, forages, vines, dairy products, and also cattle (in particular
cows) allowed to improve the quality of agrarian production of the Northern Italy and also the
knowledge in agronomics for a relevant share of peasants managing the farms. Most of
landowners and tenants assumed the graduates of these schools. Besides, when students were
peasants (usually sons of small landowners, small tenants, sharecroppers etc. who had a very
good results in the elementary school), they diffused their knowledge in all the countryside
because they represented a relevant example for other peasants farmers who adopted the new
modern methods to cultivate and correctly use new chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds.
From their birth to the early 20th century, these agrarian schools trained thousands of
students and strongly improved the quality of people working in the farms. Based on new
books and experiments made in the new agrarian schools and on the examples given by their
former student, the new knowledge network concerning news about agronomical sciences and
technologies could now include also peasants with few assets as small landowners, small
tenants and sharecroppers. This obviously helped the improvement of the production of the
countryside. Furthermore, both the public administration and the members of the socialist and
catholic movements (which represented the majority of people working in the agricultural
sector at the beginning of the 20th century) thought that the diffusion of agronomical
knowledge had to involve all villages even if the were far from the agrarian schools, in
particular the villages situated in the Alpine valleys. So they created the Cattedra Ambulante,
that is a public institution (financed by the provincial administration and some agrarian
institutions and country banks) whose aims were to coordinate the activity of farmers and
breeders and to promote the diffusion in the whole province of new more efficient productive
systems. The Cattedra Ambulante had to help farmers and peasants to know the new
agronomical techniques and by this way to grow the crops and the agrarian yields. The
agronomists working in the Cattedra Ambulante had a good knowledge of agronomics and
veterinary sciences: they organized lectures, courses, evening classes, trainings and also some
special itinerant offices where they gave advices to farmers and breeders. In fact all
agronomists were itinerant, they visited all farms and cattle-breeding of the province and
informed the owners about all innovations in agronomics and zootechnics: this obviously
allowed a capillary diffusion of the news in all provinces39.
So, while agrarian reviews maintained their relevance for the improving the knowledge of
students and member of high society interesting in agronomics, the conference in the farms or
in the villages (at the city hall or in the oratory of the parish) allowed to have a knowledge
network that was everywhere in the province: all peasants, also they lived in the Alpine
valleys, could know how to improve their productions and yields without getting infertile
their land because of the not correct use of chemical fertilizers. Following the suggestions of
agronomists of the Cattedra Ambulante, peasants also learnt to better exploit their land and so
they changed the rotations and/or the cultivated plants for increasing their earnings.
There were obviously some farmers who refused to follow the suggestions made by
agronomists, but, at the same time, most of the farmers adopted the new system for cultivating
and breeding: these innovations increased production in quantity and quality. In some sectors
the rising were very high (in particular for forages and diary products), in others they were
less relevant (e.g. the wine), but in general the earnings received by farmers increased. So
there was an important result if we consider that the incomes linked to the silk-breeding were
strongly reduced in comparison with those existing in the first half of the 19th century.
Besides, the increasing of peasants having a higher knowledge in agronomics obviously
favoured the general augmentation of productions and yields, but this fact depended on
another relevant factor: the birth of rural cooperatives. During the second half of the century
About the development of the Cattedre Ambulanti di Agricoltura at the end of the 19th century see M.
Zucchini, Le cattedre ambulanti di agricoltura, Rome 1970; M. Olivi, Il contributo delle cattedre ambulanti di
agricoltura lombarde tra la fine dell’ottocento e la prima guerra mondiale, in S. Zaninelli (ed.), Le conoscenze
agrarie, op cit., pp. 39-68; O. Failla, G. Fumi (eds), Gli agronomi, op. cit.
the knowledge network concerning innovations in agronomics in fact promoted the relevance
of the creation and diffusion of the cooperation system in the countryside. This means that the
increase of the number of peasants having a good knowledge of agronomics was also related
to the diffusion of the rural cooperatives (and of friendly societies for the cattle breeders too).
The assemblies and conferences organized for members of the rural cooperatives were in fact
the occasion for illustrating the new productive system and agrarian machines. Furthermore,
the cooperatives allowed peasants to buy seeds and fertilizers at a cheap price and they had
the money for buying or renting new seeders, reapers, ploughing machines etc. This means
that the knowledge network concerning agronomics gave information on innovations, but it
also created the conditions for a better learning of people living in the rural villages: learning
more helped to improve farming and the productions and so the life quality in the countryside.
At the early 20th century productions and yields were higher than in the previously century
and this depended on new technologies, but also on the great improvement of the peasants’
know how. Innovations in agrarian machines, fertilizers, seeds and rotations were in fact used
by farmers (landowners or their tenants, sharecroppers) and workforce who had access to all
news about the innovations concerning the agrarian sector. It is obviously impossible to
calculate the actual influence of the different factors and so the relevance of the graduate
students: however it is evident that without improving the professional skills of the labour
factor it was very difficult to correctly use new technologies. On the contrary it is possible to
compare the yields of the best farms using graduate peasants and the other farms which
continued to follow the traditional systems of cultivation because this was the landowners’
will or because they did not employ the best (and so more expensive) peasants. These latter
were in fact able to use chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds, to make the best crop rotation
and irrigation for the cultivated soil, to hire the correct number of temporary peasants for the
crop or grape harvest, to choice the best cows for diary productions, etc.: so they could grant
landowners and big tenants the best yields and more earnings (and so justified their higher
salary). So best farms could realize productions which, in quantity and quality, were more
times higher than those of the farms to be managed following the traditional uses40.
Some examples of the different yields which were possible to realize in the same area during the 19th century
are in G. Porisini, Produttività e agricoltura: i rendimenti del frumento in Italia dal 1815 al 1922, Turin 1971; P.
Tedeschi, Marché foncier et systèmes de production agricoles dans l’Italie du nord au XIXe siècle: le cas de la
Lombardie orientale, in “European Review of History”, 2008, n. 5, pp. 459-477.
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