Soviet Agriculture's Dependence on the West

Courtesy Reuters

Moscow again is buying American grain, in spite of the resentment which undoubtedly has remained after the partial embargo of January 1980. Moscow simply cannot help but continue buying great quantities of grain, while the United States remains the biggest producer and exporter of grain, and in addition a less expensive supplier than most others. About 20 years ago such a situation was unthinkable. It was only in 1963-64 that the Soviet Union for the first time after World War II contracted for big grain purchases in the United States, and only in 1972 that it became a regular buyer of increasing quantities. It is a fact that by now the Soviet Union produces 69 percent more grain than it did at that time (five-year average of 1976-80 compared to 1956-60), while its population in 1980 was only 23 percent more than in 1960.1 And yet it has turned from a net exporter of grain into a net importer.

What has changed during these two decades? How is it possible that the Soviet Union has almost exactly the same area of arable and permanent crop land per head of the population as has the United States, namely 0.89 hectares (2.2 acres), and cannot feed its population adequately, whereas U.S. agriculture not only supplies the population with one of the richest diets in the world but in addition supplies more food for export than any other country?

To attribute this contrast exclusively to the inefficiencies of the Soviet system would be as much a misleading simplification as to say that disadvantages of climate and soil are the sole explanation; there can hardly be doubt that neither the sociopolitical system nor nature alone can be held responsible. Simply, it is futile to try to quantify neatly one or the other kind of factor, if only because they are interrelated and often enhance each other.

More meaningful is the question: What can be expected from Soviet agriculture under the given circumstances for the foreseeable future of, say, the next five or more

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