Agriculture in the Soviet Union

Agriculture in the Soviet Union was mostly collectivized, with some limited cultivation of private plots. It is often viewed as one of the more inefficient sectors of the economy of the Soviet Union. A number of food taxes (prodrazverstka, prodnalog, and others) were introduced in the early Soviet period despite the Decree on Land that immediately followed the October Revolution. The forced collectivization and class war against (vaguely defined) "kulaks" under Stalinism greatly disrupted farm output in the 1920s and 1930s, contributing to the Soviet famine of 1932–33 (most especially the holodomor in Ukraine). A system of state and collective farms, known as sovkhozes and kolkhozes, respectively, placed the rural population in a system intended to be unprecedentedly productive and fair but which turned out to be chronically inefficient and lacking in fairness. Under the administrations of Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mikhail Gorbachev, many reforms (such as Khrushchev's Virgin Lands Campaign) were enacted as attempts to defray the inefficiencies of the Stalinist agricultural system. However, Marxist–Leninist ideology did not allow for any substantial amount of market mechanism to coexist alongside central planning, so the private plot fraction of Soviet agriculture, which was its most productive, remained confined to a limited role. Throughout its later decades the Soviet Union never stopped using substantial portions of the precious metals mined each year in Siberia to pay for grain imports, which has been taken by various authors as an economic indicator showing that the country's agriculture was never as successful as it ought to have been. The real numbers, however, were treated as state secrets at the time, so accurate analysis of the sector's performance was limited outside the USSR and nearly impossible to assemble within its borders. However, Soviet citizens as consumers were familiar with the fact that foods, especially meats, were often noticeably scarce, to the point that not lack of money so much as lack of things to buy with it was the limiting factor in their standard of living.

Despite immense land resources, extensive farm machinery and agrochemical industries, and a large rural workforce, Soviet agriculture was relatively unproductive. Output was hampered in many areas by the climate and poor worker productivity. However, Soviet farm performance was not uniformly bad. Organized on a large scale and relatively highly mechanized, its state and collective agriculture made the Soviet Union one of the world's leading producers of cereals, although bad harvests (as in 1972 and 1975) necessitated imports and slowed the economy. The 1976–1980 five-year plan shifted resources to agriculture, and 1978 saw a record harvest. Conditions were best in the temperate chernozem (black earth) belt stretching from Ukraine through southern Russia into the east, spanning the extreme southern portions of Siberia. In addition to cereals, cotton, sugar beets, potatoes, and flax were also major crops. Such performance showed that underlying potential was not lacking, which was not surprising as the agriculture in the Russian Empire was traditionally amongst the highest producing in the world, although rural social conditions since the October Revolution were hardly improved. Grains were mostly produced by the sovkhozes and kolkhozes, but vegetables and herbs often came from private plots.