Russia Table of Contents
Grains are among Russia's most important crops, occupying more than 50 percent of cropland. Wheat is dominant in most grain-producing areas. Winter wheat is cultivated in the North Caucasus and spring wheat in the Don Basin, in the middle Volga region, and in southwestern Siberia. Although Khrushchev expanded the cultivation of corn for livestock feed, that crop is only suitable for growth in the North Caucasus, and production levels have remained low compared with other grains. Barley, second to wheat in gross yield, is grown mainly for animal feed and beer production in colder regions as far north as 65° north latitude (the latitude of Arkhangel'sk) and well into the highlands of southern Siberia. Production of oats, which once ranked third among Russia's grains, has declined as machines have replaced horses in farming operations.
Legumes became a common crop in state farms in the 1980s. Potatoes, a vital crop for food and for the production of vodka, are grown in colder regions between 50° and 60° north latitude. Sugar beet production has expanded in recent years; the beets are grown mainly in the rich black-earth districts of European Russia. Flax, also a plant tolerant of cold and poor soils, is Russia's most important raw material for textiles, and the country produced about half the world's flax crop in the 1980s. Flax also yields linseed oil, which together with sunflowers (in the North Caucasus) and soybeans (in the Far East) is an important source of vegetable oil. Production of fruits and vegetables increased as private farms began to expand around 1990. In the mid-1990s, the largest yields in that category were in cabbages, apples, tomatoes, and carrots.
Increased production of fodder crops and expansion of pastureland have supported Russia's livestock industry, although economic conditions have caused cutbacks in animal holdings. Cattle are the most common form of livestock except in the drier areas, where sheep and goats dominate. The third-largest category is pigs, which are raised in areas of European Russia and the Pacific coast that offer grain, potatoes, or sugar beets as fodder. Only very small numbers of chickens are kept, and frozen chicken has become one of Russia's largest import items.
Agricultural reform has proved to be a tough challenge for Russia during its transition to a market economy. The challenge comes from the legacy of the Soviet period and from deeply imbedded cultural biases against individualism. Because of agriculture's vital economic role, large-scale agricultural reform is necessary for success in other sectors. In the mid-1990s, however, private initiative was not rewarded, and inefficient input distribution and marketing structures failed to take advantage of agricultural assets.
Data as of July 1996