Agriculture in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union stamp, the seven-year plan, grain; 1959, 20 kop., used, CPA No. 2345.
was organized into a system of state and collective farms, known as sovkhozes
, respectively. Following a grain crisis in 1928, Joseph Stalin
established the USSR's system of state and collective farms when he moved to replace the NEP
with collective farming, which grouped peasants into collective farms (kolkhozes
) and state farms (sovkhozes
). Organized on a large scale and relatively highly mechanized, the Soviet Union was one of the world's leading producers of cereals, although bad harvests (as in 1972 and 1975) necessitated imports and slowed the economy. The 1976-1980 five-year plan shifted resources to agriculture, and 1978 saw a record harvest. Cotton
, sugar beets
, and flax
were also major crops.
However, despite immense land resources, extensive machinery and chemical industries, and a large rural work force, Soviet agriculture was relatively unproductive, hampered in many areas by the climate (only 10 percent of the Soviet Union's land was arable), and poor worker productivity. Conditions were best in the temperate black earth belt stretching from Ukraine through southern Russia into the west, spanning the extreme southern portions of Siberia.
Stalin's campaign of forced collectivization was a major factor explaining the sector's poor performance. Collectivization relied on a system of internal passports to keep farmers tied to the land. This has been referred to as a form of "neo-serfdom", in which the Communist bureaucracy replaced the former landowners. The first response of most farmers to this loss of freedom was to slaughter and consume their farm animals. In the new state and collective farms, outside directives failed to take local growing conditions into account. Also, interference in the day-to-day affairs of peasant life often bred resentment and worker alienation across the countryside. The human toll was very large with millions, perhaps as many as 3 million, dying from famine in the wake of collectivisation. In the collective and state farms, low labor productivity was a consequence for the entire Soviet period.
The claims of inefficiency have, however, been criticized by Economist Joseph E. Medley of the University of Southern Maine, US. Statistics based on value rather than volume of production may give one view of reality, as public-sector food was heavily subsidized and sold at much lower prices than private-sector produce. In addition, the 2–3% of arable land allotted as private plots does not include the large area allocated to the peasants as pasturage for their private livestock; combined with land used to produce grain for fodder, the pasturage and the private plots total almost 20% of all Soviet farmland. Private farming may also be relatively inefficient, taking roughly 40% of all agricultural labor to produce only 26% of all output by value. Another problem is these criticisms tend to discuss only a small number of consumer products and do not take into account the fact that the kolkhozy and sovkhozy produced mainly grain, cotton, flax, forage, seed, and other non-consumer goods with a relatively low value per unit area. This economist admits to some inefficiency in Soviet agriculture, but claims that the failure reported by most Western experts would only be a myth. (Full article...)