Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Agriculture of the Soviet Union
Agriculture in the Soviet Union was organized into a system of state and collective farms, known as sovkhozes and kolkhozes, respectively. Organized on a large scale and 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, potatoes, 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.
Main article: Collectivisation in the USSR.
Joseph Stalin established the USSR's system of state and collective farms when he moved to replace the NEP with collective farming in 1928, which grouped peasants into collective farms (kolkhozes) and state farms (sovkhozes).
Stalin's campaign of forced collectivization was a major factor explaining the sector's poor performance. 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 (although some landless or poor peasants benefited from the process). The human toll was very large. In the collective farms, low labor productivity was a consequence for decades to come.
The sovkhozy tended to focus on larger scale production than the kolkhozy and had the ability to specialize in certain crops. The government tended to supply them with better machinery and fertilizers. Labor productivity (and in turn incomes) tended to be higher on the sovkhozy. Workers in state farms received wages and social benefits, whereas those on the collective farms tended to receive a portion of the net income of their farm, based, in part, on the success of the harvest and their individual contribution.
Although accounting for a small share of cultivated area, private plots produced a substantial share of the country's meat, milk, eggs, and vegetables. Private plots were among many attempts made to restructure Soviet farming. However, the weak worker incentives and managerial autonomy, which were the crux of the problem, were not addressed.
Although the Soviet Union was the world's second leading agricultural producer and ranked first in the production of numerous commodities, agriculture was a net drain on the economy.
Efficiency of collective farming
The theory behind collectivisation was that it would replace the small-scale unmechanised and inefficient farms that were then commonplace in the Soviet Union with large-scale mechanised farms that would produce food far more efficiently. However, some observers say that despite isolated successes, collective farms and sovkhozes were inefficient, the agricultural sector being weak thoughout the history of the Soviet Union. Hedrick Smith, wrote in The Russians (1976) that according to Soviet statistics, one fourth of the value of agricultural production in 1973 was produced on the private plots peasants were allowed (2% of the whole arable land).
These claims of "inefficiency" have, however, been criticised. Statistics based on value rather than volume of production give a particularly distorted view of reality, as public-sector food was heavily subsidised 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 also turns out to be relatively inefficient, taking roughly 40% of all agricultural labour to produce only 25% of all output by value. Finally, such claims 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 hectare.
Economist Joseph E. Medley of the University of Southern Maine, US, while admitting to some inefficiency in Soviet agriculture, denounces the "myths" of failure propounded by Western critics.  He believes it to be ideological in nature and emphasises "[t]he possibility that socialized agriculture may be able to make valuable contributions to improving human welfare".
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