Major developments in agriculture

During this period the Soviet authorities continued to make massive investments in the agricultural sector. In the tenth five-year plan period (1976-1980), at 172 billion rubles (230 billion dollars), the proposed total would be 31 percent up on the 1971 to 1975 figures, whereas the rise in the Soviet economy was only 24 percent (Economist, 1977). The following five years (1981-1986) were characterized by only a 10 percent increase in investments. In absolute figures this means that 38 to 40 billion rubles were spent on agriculture each year as opposed to 34 billion rubles a year in the previous five years (Izvestia, 1980b). The slowing of the rate of growth in investment in Soviet agriculture is understandable, since expenditure had already reached a very high level by the end of the 1960s. The share of state investment in agriculture had risen from 23 percent in 1966-1970 to 26 percent in 1971-1975. Between 1976 and 1980, capital expenditure on agriculture had consistently accounted for 27 percent of the total budgeted by the USSR. In the early 1980s, the share of the total state investment reached 33 to 35 percent for the whole agro-industrial sector1, with the same 27 to 28 percent for agriculture.

The main focus of the investment was still the livestock sector, which was intended to be transformed into a highly industrialized and specialized branch of the economy. However, there were three new long-term projects which absorbed a considerable part of the money allocated to agriculture.

A large part of the investment was to go to the forest-poor podzolic soil areas. The non-black earth zone included 29 oblasts with a population of more than 58 million (or 44 percent of the total population of the RSFSR in 1975). Agricultural lands occupied an area of about 52 million hectares, including 32 million hectares of arable land or 24 percent of the total arable area in the RSFSR. In 1975 this area produced 13 percent of the USSR's grain, 35 percent of its potatoes, 19 percent of its vegetables, 16 percent of its meat, and 21 percent of its milk. Grain production was scheduled to increase from 18.8 million tons in 1975 to 31 million tons in 1980 (Severin and Carey, 1978). This 15-year plan was announced for the first time by Leonid Brezhnev in March 1974. Disappointed by the instability of harvests in the steppe zone, the Soviet authorities turned to the forest zone in the hope that the area could become a stable base for grain output to counter the erratic production caused by unreliable rainfall in the Black Earth zone and virgin lands. The non-black earth zone has a relatively short growing season but the highest average annual rainfall of any agricultural area in the USSR. In its note to the government, Gosplan particularly stressed that this area had never experienced a severe drought. The report also noted that because of weak support in the years of the virgin lands campaign, the growth of local agriculture had become slower, and even declined, in relation to the livestock production sector (Kiselev and Shagin, 1996).

About 35 billion rubles (45 billion dollars at the official exchange rate) out of the 172 billion rubles was planned to be spent in the 1976 to 1980 period in order to develop agriculture in the non-black earth zone of European Russia. First of all, these regions required enormous capital investment. The new program included land reclamation projects (irrigation and drainage) as well as the application of more agricultural chemicals, the construction of livestock complexes, the creation of a transport network, and the resettling of small villages as "non-prospective". The share of the gross fixed investment in agriculture in the zone was planned to grow from nearly 15 percent of the total figure for Soviet agriculture during 1971 to 1975, to just over 20 percent during 1976 to 1980. Fertilizer deliveries to the zone were to increase from 21 percent to 26 percent of the total fertilizer deliveries for Soviet agriculture as a whole (Severin and Carey, 1978). The main challenges for the plan were the depressed state of local farming and labor shortages.

The availability of labor was one of the factors which certainly constrained future agricultural output in the USSR in this period. Although farmworkers still comprised over one-quarter of the total labor force, agricultural employment dropped from 45 million in 1960 to 34 million in 1976 as employment opportunities swelled in urban areas. Migration from farms involved primarily the young and the more skilled, leaving behind people largely outside working age. Almost half the rural population of 1970 was under 15 or over 59, compared with about one-third in urban areas (Severin and Carey, 1978). During the 1980s, the employable rural population decreased by a further 15 percent.

The labor shortage was an especially acute problem in the non- black earth zone. As one Western paper put it, "no one in his right mind, it seems, wants to live in the countryside in almost any part of Central Russia" (Guardian, 1980). Between 1960 and 1975 the number of employable people in the non-black earth zone decreased by 34 percent, and the number of young people fell by almost two-thirds. According to Soviet statistics, less than 4 percent of newly trained young agricultural mechanics remained in rural areas. In mid-1975, in 80 to 90 percent of villages in nine oblasts of this area, the number of young people was only 30 to 38 (Kisilev and Shagin, 1996). In the 15-year plan for the accelerated development of agriculture in the zone, the Soviet planners provided no solution to the labor shortage except some declarations about the need to raise living standards in rural areas in the future.

The second long-term agrarian project of the Soviet government was to organize territorial "agro-industrial complexes". A decree in the summer of 1976 proposed the transformation of the country's 40,000-odd collective and state farms. They were to form larger associations.

The new associations would be expected to give up the present system of mixed farming and to specialize in particular types of production. They would also form close links with industry so as to turn themselves into agro-industrial complexes. By 1990, 11 such large-scale complexes had been organized in the Russian Federation, but the idea yielded little. Western experts believed that it was wrong to amalgamate already giant production units into monstrous agro-industrial complexes instead of changing management structures (Bush, 1975).

The third project, named the "Food Program of the USSR", was announced in May 1982 in the wake of the deep food crisis which had struck the country in 1979 to 1981. The Food Program proposed no new ways for raising agricultural production and promised enormous investment to the agricultural and food industries for the period 1982 to 1990. The government was going to cover all expenditures for the melioration, construction, and operation of large irrigation systems, for protecting soils from erosion, and for the technical renovation of Soviet kolkhozes and sovkhozes (Lappo, Kozlov, and Michailov, 1983). For example, in 1980 the agriculture sector received 2,562,000 tractors and 722,000 grain harvesters. According to the food program, however, agriculture should have received 3,740,000 to 3,780,000 tractors and 1,170,000 grain harvesters and other agricultural machines between 1982 and 1990. The Soviet Union planned to expand large-scale irrigation in order to receive more stable harvests in the steppe zone. The area of irrigated lands was to reach 20.8 million hectares by 1985 (between 1975 and 1980 the area had increased from 14.5 to 18.0 million hectares), and 23 to 25 million hectares by 1990. The irrigated lands were to produce 20 to 22 million tons of grain (as compared with 10.1 million tons in 1976-1980), or 8 percent of the total production by 1990—250 to 275 million tons (ibid.). The preparation of irrigated areas for grain growing is an expensive business. The capital cost reported from the Soviet Union was 5,000 to 10,000 rubles per hectare (6,750 to 13,500 dollars per hectare, or 6.8 billion dollars for 1 million hectares), with an annual operating cost of 100 rubles. These figures were reasonable enough for a high-value crop such as cotton, but not for grain, except in a country determined to be self-sufficient (Economist, 1977).

The chronic problem of large harvest losses because of the poor infrastructure in the Soviet Union was specially targeted in the food program. Losses were incurred at each stage of farming—sowing, harvesting, transportation, and storage. The greatest crop losses in the

Soviet Union resulted from delays in harvesting because of machine shortages. It had been scientifically proven that losses of up to 2.7 centners per hectare were caused by allowing crops to stand for ten days after they had fully matured. Strains that were less resistant to over-maturation could account for losses of up to 16.4 percent of the total yield, and crops stored in piles over too long a period could result in another 13 percent loss in yield. The harvesting of cereal crops in the USSR lasted from 25 to 39 days, instead of from 9 to 10 days. With a delay in harvesting of 20 days after maturity, the shortfall in grain yield could be as much as 32 percent (Ekonomika sel'skogo khozyastva, 1976).

The inadequate number of grain stores was yet another serious problem. In 1978, granaries on kolkhozes and sovkhozes could accommodate only 70.5 million tons, or 64 percent of the amount requiring storage. The country had to transport a huge amount of grain over colossal distances to supply non-productive regions, and a lack of transport led to a further considerable loss of grain. This was a problem even in the case of transporting imported grain across the country. Because the volume of grain being purchased abroad by the USSR amounted to dozens of millions of tons, and because the Soviet railroad system was already taxed beyond its capacity with domestic freight, the additional burden of having to move large shipments of imported grain inevitably led to a number of problems. The railroad system did not have a sufficient number of trucks specifically intended for grain transport and had to rely on wagons that not only unsuitable for carrying loose, dry cargo but were frequently damaged themselves. The result was inevitably serious losses of grain both in the process of loading and en route ("Much of the USSR's imported grain lost in transit', 1982).

Western experts believed that roughly 15 percent was to be deducted from Soviet grain output data because of these losses. It was also concluded that the often applied deduction of 15 percent seems accurate only as an average for several years, while for individual years the necessary deduction might range from a maximum of 28 percent to a minimum of 8 percent (Wadekin, 1978). In 1982, the year of the adoption of the food program, V. Tikhonov, a member of the USSR Academy of Sciences and chairman of its Scientific Council for Economic, Social, and Legal Problems of the Agricultural Complex, stated that "during harvesting, transporting, storing, and industrial processing we lose about one-fifth of the gross yield of grain, vegetables, and fruit and berry crops" (Sotsialisticheskaya industria, 1982).

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