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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


Grain crops have long been the foundation of agriculture in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. In 1986 grain was grown on 55.3 percent of the total sown area of 210.3 million hectares. The most widely cultivated grain crops continued to be wheat (48.7 million hectares, or 23.2 percent of the total sown area), followed in order by barley (30.0 million hectares), oats (13.2 million hectares), rye (8.7 million hectares), pulses (6.7 million hectares), corn for grain (4.2 million hectares), millet (2.5 million hectares), buckwheat (1.6 million hectares), and rice (600,000 hectares). The area sown with wheat declined steadily throughout the 1970s and 1980s, reaching a thirty-year low in 1987. And the total area occupied by grain fell during each year from 1981 through 1986, as more land was laid fallow or planted in fodder crops.

Although the total area allotted to grain in 1986 (116.5 million hectares) was only slightly greater than that allotted in 1960 (115.8 million hectares), total output throughout the period steadily rose, thanks to the use of more productive farming methods, improved seed, and heavier application of fertilizers. For example, average wheat yields rose from 1.34 tons per hectare between 1966 and 1970 to 1.6 tons per hectare between 1976 and 1980 (a figure slightly skewed by the record harvest of 1978), 1.45 tons per hectare from 1981 to 1985, and 1.89 tons per hectare in 1986. At the same time, rye, barley, oats, and corn yields were also gradually rising.

The Soviet Union has never had an oversupply of feed grains, and before Brezhnev's era it was customary to conduct wholesale slaughter of livestock during bad harvest years to conserve grain for human consumption. Beginning in the early 1970s, however, the standard policy was to import the grain needed to sustain large livestock inventories. Thereafter, the Soviet Union appeared destined to be a permanent net importer of grains. During the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (1981-85), the country imported some 42 million tons of grain annually, almost twice as much as during the Tenth Five-Year Plan (1976-80) and three times as much as during the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1971-75). The bulk of this grain was provided by the West; in 1985, for example, 94 percent of Soviet grain imports were from the noncommunist world, with the United States supplying 14.1 million tons.

Data as of May 1989