Soviet Union Table of Contents
Agricultural self-sufficiency has been the goal of Soviet leadership since the Bolshevik Revolution (see Glossary), but it was not until the late 1940s that food supplies were adequate to prevent widespread hunger. Farm output had suffered greatly as a result of Stalin's policies of forced collectivization, low procurement prices, and underinvestment in agriculture; at the time of his death in 1953, both the quality and the quantity of the food supply were inferior to that of the precollectivization period.
Under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, improved agricultural performance became a top priority, and sown area for major crops increased (see table 36, Appendix A). By 1983 the APK accounted for more than 40 percent of the total value of the country's fixed capital assets, created 42 percent of total national income, and provided 75 percent of total retail turnover in state and cooperative trade. In spite of the massive investments of the 1970s and 1980s, however, the sector generally did not perform well. Whereas the annual growth rate of agricultural output averaged 3.9 percent between 1950 and 1970, it actually declined to 1.2 percent in the decade of the 1970s. And between 1981 and 1985, grain output averaged only 180.3 million tons, substantially below the 1976-80 average of 205 million tons and not even matching the 1971-75 average of 181.6 million tons.
In 1986 this downward trend was reversed, as the fourth best grain harvest in Soviet history was recorded--210.1 million tons. In spite of severe winter weather and a late spring, the 1987 harvest was even larger, 211.3 million tons, marking the first time in Soviet history that output exceeded 200 million tons for two consecutive years. Gorbachev's policies of increased reliance on contract-brigade farming and delegation of broader decision-making authority to local managers were given partial credit for this improvement in agricultural performance.
Another important contributing factor to the improved agricultural performance of 1986 and 1987, according to Western analysts, was the cumulative effect of nearly two decades of heavy investment in the agricultural infrastructure. Notable progress had been made in livestock housing, machinery manufacturing, and fertilizer production. Nevertheless, much remained to be done. As many as 40 percent of the nation's farms still lacked storage facilities, and the average farm was hundreds of kilometers from the nearest grain elevator or meat-packing plant. Much of the rural road network was not hard surfaced and during the rainy seasons became impassable. Although the Soviet Union had become the world's largest tractor manufacturer, surpassing the United States by 4.5 times in the 1980s, the quality of this machinery was low and spare parts were virtually nonexistent. Enormous progress had been made in the development of the agricultural chemical industry, and deliveries increased substantially (see table 37, Appendix A). The expansion of transportation, storage, and packaging capacity did not keep pace with it. Over 10 percent of the chemical fertilizer produced never reached the farms.
Data as of May 1989