By the end of the nineteenth century, the open steppes of southeastern Russia had been transformed from a region that had been relatively sparsely inhabited, largely by Tatar and Kalmyk nomadic pastoralists and communities of Cossacks, into the home of around 10 million settled farmers. Most of the farmers were migrants, or the descendants of migrants, from central Russia, Ukraine, and also from Germany. The peopling of this peripheral region of the Russian empire by agricultural settlers led to considerable changes in the economy and land use. Steppes that for centuries had been used by nomads as pastures for their herds were plowed up by farmers, who sowed grain in the very fertile black earth (chernozem). The nomads either moved away or gave up their nomadic way of life. The transformation of the steppe region also had an impact on the natural environment. Over the course of the nineteenth century, educated Russians, in particular government officials and natural scientists, put forward differing views on the prospects for agriculture in the steppe environment. Some viewed the steppe environment as ideal for growing grain and were generally optimistic about the prospects for the continued development of arable farming. Others were more cautious, however, and expressed concerns that arable farming and related activities were doing serious damage to the environment with adverse consequences for agriculture and its future prospects. By the end of the nineteenth century, the most pessimistic commentators were worried that the steppes were turning into a desert. To some extent, the two strands – optimistic and pessimistic – came together towards the end of the century in a confidence that, armed with statistical and scientific knowledge, the degradation of the environment could be reversed and nature “improved” for the benefit of the human population.