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A sovkhoz (Russian: совхо́з, IPA: [sɐvˈxos] ( ), abbreviated from советское хозяйство, "Soviet farm"), typically translated as state farm, is a state-owned farm. The term originated in the Soviet Union, hence the name. The term is still in use in some post-Soviet states, e.g., Russia and Belarus. It is usually contrasted with kolkhoz, which is a collective-owned farm. Unlike the members of a kolkhoz, which were called "kolkhozniks" (колхозники), the workers of a sovkhoz were officially called "sovkhoz workers" (работники совхозов) and rarely (and then only colloquially) "sovkhozniki".
Sovkhozy in the USSR
Sovkhozy, or Soviet state farms, began to be created in the early 1920s as an ideological example of "socialist agriculture of the highest order". Kolkhozes, or collective farms, were regarded for a long time as an intermediate stage in the transition to the ideal of state farming. While kolkhozy were typically created by combining small individual farms together in a cooperative structure, a sovkhoz would be organized by the state on land confiscated from former large estates (so-called "state reserve land" that was left over after distribution of land to individuals) and sovkhoz workers would be recruited from among landless rural residents. The sovkhoz employees would be paid regulated wages, whereas the remuneration system in a kolkhoz relied on cooperative-style distribution of farm earnings (in cash and in kind) among the members. In farms of both types, however, a system of internal passports prevented movement of employees and members from rural areas to urban areas. In effect farmers became tied to their sovkhoz or kolkhoz in what is described by some as a system of "neo-serfdom".
The sovkhoz was headed by a state-appointed director. Most important, capital investment for the sovkhoz was funded by the state budget. Thus, although prices paid by the state for sovkhoz produce were lower than for compulsory deliveries from collective farms, state farms were in a financially much better position. This was a major reason for the subsequent conversion of weak collective farms into state farms in the post-World War II years, a process enhanced by the Soviet policy of agro-industrial integration and the ultimate development of the agroindustrial complex comprising collective and state farms and industrial processing capacity.
The role of state farms in Soviet agriculture grew steadily during the Soviet era. The number of state farms grew from less than 1,500 in 1929 to just over 23,000 by the end of the Gorbachev era in the late 1980s. This expansion resulted partly from state policy—the amalgamation and conversion of collective farms to state farms—and partly from the use of state farms in special programs expanding the area under cultivation, such as the Virgin Lands Campaign. During the 1930s, state farms had on average roughly 3,600 hectares (36 km², 9,000 acres) of sown area. By the 1980s, they averaged more than 4,500 hectares (45 km², 11,000 acres) of sown area per farm.
There were considerable differences in the output patterns between collective and state farms, and state farms were viewed as more productive and more profitable than collective farms. Generally speaking, the role of the state farms increased over time from modest proportions in the early 1930s. The sovkhoz came to be important in the production of grain, vegetables and eggs, less important for meat products.
In 1990, the Soviet Union had 23,500 sovkhozy, or 45% of the total number of large-scale collective and state farms. The average size of a sovkhoz was 15,300 hectares (153 km²), nearly three times the average kolkhoz (5,900 hectares or 59 km² in 1990). Sovkhoz farms were more dominant in the Central Asian part of the Soviet Union.
During the transition era of the 1990s, many state farms were reorganized using joint stock arrangements, although the development of land markets remained constrained by opposition to private ownership of land.
State farms in other countries
- East Germany (Volkseigenes Gut)
- Poland (Państwowe Gospodarstwo Rolne)
- How Russia is Ruled by Merle Fainsod, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, revised edition (1970), p. 570.
- Statistical Yearbook of the USSR, State Statistical Committee of the USSR, Moscow, 1990 (Russian).