Soviet Union Table of Contents
So-called technical crops are widely and successfully cultivated in the Soviet Union. Among such crops are cotton, sugar beets, sunflowers and other crops producing oilseeds, flax, and hemp. In 1986 these crops were grown on 13.7 million hectares, about 6.5 percent of the total sown area. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union assumed the position of the world's largest producer of cotton, averaging more than 8 million tons of raw cotton per year. Virtually all of the country's cotton was grown on irrigated lands in Central Asia and the Azerbaydzhan Republic; the Uzbek Republic alone accounted for 62 percent of total output between 1981 and 1985.
The Soviet Union has been very successful at cultivating sunflowers, accounting for over half of world output. The crop flourishes in the low-precipitation southern zones, especially in the Donets-Dnepr and northern Caucasus regions. The area allotted to sunflower cultivation steadily decreased from a peak level of 4.8 million hectares in 1970 to 3.9 million hectares in 1987. Total output also dropped, but thanks to improved seed stock and more effective use of intensive technology, the decrease in production was not proportionate to the reduced area for cultivation. The average annual harvest between 1971 and 1975 was slightly below 6 million tons, and in 1987 it amounted to 6.1 million tons.
Since the early 1970s, sugar beets have occupied roughly the same amount of farmland as the other major technical crops--cotton and sunflowers--averaging some 3.5 million hectares. Sugar beet production, concentrated in the central and western Ukrainian Republic, the northwestern Caucasus, and the eastern areas of the Kazakh Republic and other Soviet Central Asian republics averaged 88.7 million tons per year between 1976 and 1980, well above the previous high of an average of 81.1 million tons per year in the 1966-70 period. Between 1981 and 1985, output fell to 76.3 million tons annually but rose thereafter, reaching 90 million tons in 1987. Although in the 1980s sugar beets continued to provide over 60 percent of the country's sugar production, the Soviet Union was becoming increasingly dependent on raw sugar imported primarily from Cuba, e.g., from 2.1 million tons per year between 1966 and 1970 to 4.9 million tons per year between 1981 and 1985.
Grown for fiber and as a source of linseed oil, flax has been particularly successful in the mixed-forest zone northwest of Moscow and in the Belorussian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and northwest Ukrainian republics. Although the area sown to flax steadily decreased from 2.1 million hectares in 1940 to only 980,000 hectares in 1986, production actually rose from 349,000 tons of fiber in 1940 to a peak of 480,000 tons in 1965 and to 366,000 tons in 1986.
Hemp, the other significant fiber crop, has been grown since the eighteenth century, although its area of cultivation has steadily decreased from about 600,000 hectares in 1940 to fewer than 100,000 hectares in 1986. Used in making rope, string, and rough cloth, hemp is grown primarily in the central chernozem area south of Tula and in the northern Caucasus.
Data as of May 1989