Setting the Record Straight on Soviet Agriculture

An interesting article argues that Soviet agriculture was not a failure at all, but was instead quite successful in certain ways.

Per Capita Consumption of Meat and Fish in 1980
in Kg. 

            USSR   UK
Beef        11     12
Pork        23.5   6.1
Poultry     6.0    9.8
Fish        17     7.1
Total Meat  57.5   35
Fresh Fruit 37     30.7
Sugar       42.2   16.5

As you can see, in 1988, Soviet citizens ate almost 50% more meat than your average Brit. They ate 4 times more pork, 2 1/2 times more fish and about the same amount of beef. The Brits ate a bit more chicken. Soviet citizens ate a bit more fruit than Brits did, this amid typical complaints that fresh fruit was almost nonexistent in the USSR.

Yes, there were chronic shortages and long lines, and much was made of this. Even Soviets themselves were often frustrated by the food situation. But you can see that the shortages and lines were occurring in the context of some respectable levels of consumption.

Daily Per Capita Consumption Of Calories & Protein 
In The Late 1960's

               Calories   Protein
               (Per Day) (Ounces Per Day)

United States  3,200      3.39
USSR           3,180      3.24
Britain        3,150      3.10
West Germany   2,960      2.86

There were shortages of meat in the 1980’s, but that was due to increased consumption, not declining output. In the 1960’s, there were meat surpluses, but meat was highly priced so it was an expensive item for most families. In the 1980’s, the price was the same as in the 1960’s but wages had increased by 2 1/2 times.

US rural life is characterized by harsh working conditions, poor housing, inadequate diets and low wages. Outside of the gulags, none of that was true of rural life in the USSR.

Per Capita Meat Consumption 1988

       Norway Sweden Japan

USSR   +      =-      2X

In 1988, Soviet meat consumption was higher than Norway, a bit lower than Sweden and twice that of Japan.

Since the 1960’s, Soviet food consumption had been running on a par with the developed world.

USSR vs US, 1989 

Hogs      More
Sheep     More
Cattle    More
Wheat     Higher Production  
Rye       Higher Production
Oats      Higher Production
Barley    Higher Production
Cotton    Higher Production
Potatoes  Higher Production 
Sugar     Higher Production
Wool      Higher Production
Milk      Higher Production
Butter    Higher Production
Eggs      Higher Production
Fish      Higher Production

The need for grain imports post 1970 was not triggered by declining wheat production. Instead they were triggered by growing demand for and consumption of meat by the Soviet population along with increased income.

America is the largest importer of meat on Earth and is now a net importer of fruits, vegetables and fish. Does this mean that US agriculture in these areas has failed?

There are inefficiencies in both systems. In the US, farmers destroy hogs, burn grains and potatoes and leave crops to rot in the ground because prices are too low. In Europe, farmers dump crops along the side of the road and dump milk in ditches for the same reason, even though there are hungry people in most of these countries.

Combines miss 20% of the corn crop every year and it is left to rot. Due to market mechanisms, it is not profitable to glean the missed corn from the ground and harvest it by whatever means. It is true that capitalist agriculture is more efficient than socialist agriculture when it comes to minimizing labor costs. But from a workers’ POV, one wonders if that is such a great thing.

In the USSR, workers lived on their farms year round while in US agriculture, farm work tends to be seasonal. Therefore, it was more costly for the USSR to support rear-round agricultural workers at their farms. Nevertheless, this capitalist efficiency has a high cost in rural areas: chronic high underemployment and rural poverty rates.

It is true that the US farm worker was 7-8 times more productive than a Soviet worker, but this was mostly due to increased mechanization in the US. There were .73 trucks per worker in the US and only .056 trucks per worker in the USSR.

However, Soviet workers were 3-25% more productive than Italian workers, and their productivity was similar to that of many West European farmers.

Productivity and yields for all crops continued to grow during the entire Soviet period all the way up until the end. Much of this was accomplished by increased cultivation of arable (but often marginal) lands.

Yields per acre varied, but the US typically produced twice as much per acre as the USSR. Part of this was due to poor growing conditions in the USSR. However, cotton yields in the USSR were typically 50% higher than those of the US, and for several years, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary had wheat yields per acre nearly double the US rate.

15 Comments

Filed under Agricutlure, Capitalism, Economics, Health, Nutrition, Socialism, USSR

15 responses to “Setting the Record Straight on Soviet Agriculture

  1. Halal Butcher of Lhasa

    Actually the meat consumption per capita of poor, third-world and
    human-rights-abused china has also exceeded 50 kg/year.
    Sometimes I can’t help giggling.
    http://www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2012/update102

  2. Steve

    So they did well in farming and fed the people. Good. In what areas did they do badly?

    What did people do for entertainment? How did they spend their time when not working?

    Was alcohol or any other drugs available?

    What was soviet art, film and entertainment like? How was it limited or constrained by the lack of freedom?

    Did most peoples have radios? Televisions?

    What was on radio or television?

    What were the clothes like and how were clothes produced and how did people get them?

    What hours did people work? How did people get their jobs? Could everybody go to university and get a good job if they were bright enough?

    Okay, you’ve got me to pay attention. So inform me on the rest.

    In truth, my only real antipathy is towards the lack of freedom and the authoritarian and totalitarian nature of the system. I’m open minded about the economy.

  3. Steve

    Peter Hitchens also claims that a command economy functions best when there is plenty of fear. Would the soviet economy and development have been possible with democracy and freedom and a lack of fear or was it necessarily a totalitarian project?

  4. Hwy 91

    You just don’t run across many former Soviet citizens who sing the praises of their economy and how well they ate during those times. I guess I would like to hear or read interviews with the everyday citizen in that country and get the real story since numbers don’t always tell
    the whole story

    • The Soviets you meet here are all refugees who hated the system. I know one guy who lived under the system and he was indifferent to it. He said it was a good idea but there was too much repression. He blamed Stalin for that.

      I know a Russian woman who says they need to bring back Stalin! Her family has a “dacha” a vacation home in the woods. They get to use it every year for free or for cheap. He has a basic middle class sort of job. She said her parents had good jobs in the USSR and that’s how the family got the dacha. Apparently a lot of regular Soviet citizens had access to these dachas or summer cabins for a few weeks or so during the summer. Not sure how it worked. Maybe you shared the dacha with others like a time share. Vacation in a dacha was free or cheap in Soviet times so everyone could afford a vacation.

      43% of Russians say they want to go back to the system they had under the USSR.

      • Steve

        There’s some footage of a holiday cabin in this film. Check out the trailer for Goodbye Lenin.

        • Steve

          to be honest, that trailer tells you almost every single thing that happens in the film. You may as well just watch the trailer.

      • 43%, yeh. One of amazing facts of American history is the majority of freed slaves had a positive view on the institution of slavery, and many unabashedly wished to return to slavery.
        А notable detail of the “dacha” condition: it was a wooden house, out of plumbing or sewerage. The toalet was a little cabin outdoors with a hole in the middle. No even theoretical possibility to make it decent did exist.

  5. AlanJ

    I hope Russia gifts some pristine temperate land to the Brahmins; We can call it “Brahmica”; We will all go back there.

  6. Livestock. After 1955 Soviet leaders placed heavy emphasis on increased production of meat and dairy products. Livestock herds increased steadily, but production was erratic. Two thirds of the livestock was equally divided between dairy cows and beef cattle; pigs made up 17 percent and poultry 16 percent. Between 1980 and 1985, 55 percent of livestock feed consisted of domestic and imported grain; the remainder consisted of hay and silage.

  7. Bhabhiji

    I didn’t know where to post this but by the way, taking a gander through your blog I see you sometimes write about “game” and picking up women. I thought this was HILARIOUS. An hen-pecked Indian Hindu married to an oppressive Muslim wife is advised by an ex-muslim man to use “dominance game” and “male chauvanist pig game” (citing Islamic sourced for both) in order to assert his rights as a Hindu man to her!

    http://www.faithfreedom.org/articles/a-muslim-in-my-life/my-wife-calls-me-kafir%E2%80%A6-i-wish-i-die/

    Classic.

  8. Bhabhiji

    don’t know anything about that site. but that blog was pretty funny. i guess pua and mra are good for something afterall!

  9. sddd

    All the lines during the late Gorbachev period, when his reforms were tanking the economy, were mostly predicated on artifically low prices (so that no one would be without the necessities), which led to shortages.
    The success of collectivation (even the bureacratic Soviet variety) is even more apparent when one factors in the full-time staff that were paid year-round. There was a paper publised in 1988 where a U.S. academic with farm experience noted the large numbers of illegal migrant labor that were not counted in U.S. statistics. When that number was factored in, the percentage of men in U.S. agricultre was orders of magnitude higher.
    Then you have the Hungary collective farms, which on much less land, out-produced wheat in France. Then you have the misleading facts of the ‘importance’ of the personal plots of collective farmers. Though these were important for some vegetables and fruits, they only accounted for a small minority of all produce in the country. The faux comment on lack of real increases in China for food in the Mao period does not factor in mass increases of population.

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