Creating and Diffusing a New Agronomic Knowledge in

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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 (Andrea M. Locatelli – Paolo Tedeschi) Working Paper - Do not quote

Abstract 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

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. 2 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. 3 D.C. North, Understanding the Process of Economic Change, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2005. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 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. 8 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. 10 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. 11 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. 12 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 14

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. 15 M. Meriggi, Milano borghese. Circoli ed élites nell'Ottocento, Venice 1992, pp. 52-150. 16 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. 17 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 18

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 19

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. 20

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. 22 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. 21


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. 24 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, 25

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". 26 P.L. Spaggiari, L'agricoltura negli Stati parmensi dal 1750 al 1859, Milan 1966. 27 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. 28 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. 31 C. Zanier (ed.), Una figura di statista europeo tra ricerca scientifica e operare concreto. Gherardo Freschi (1804-1893), Pordenone 1998. 30


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 32

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. 33

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. 35 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 37

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. 38 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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