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.