Why was agriculture so ineffective in the Soviet Union?

I took part in a university course on Soviet-American relations in the late 1980s.We studied the topics of media and agriculture intensively. Especially in the field of agriculture we had an emeritus professor of the University of Minnesota, who was repeatedly visiting farms in Ukraine and gave a few lectures as part of the course.

(Without wanting to make name dropping, it was Prof.Norman Borlaug,[1 father of the Green Revolution.Pretty much everyone in the agricultural sciences knows his writings and ideas.)

He said there were three main factors:

  1. Collectivization. In doing so, the Soviet state has erased the impulse for profit and performance by self-serving.

Why work hard if you personally don’t profit from the extra effort? In addition, farms were increasingly put together in the name of efficiency, but by bureaucrats, who mostly had no idea about the events on the ground. It also froze the market, because collectivization made decisions further and further away from what was happening. Not only did the left hand not know what the right hand was doing, it often didn’t even know that the right hand existed at all. What to look for and what food and fertilizers and under what conditions was increasingly decided in a one-size fits allpolicy 鈥?whether it made sense on the ground or not.(Mostly not.) As a result, the theoretical benefits of merging have been lost.

  • Central planned economy. The bureaucratic paths for simple things such as the purchase of machinery and tractors were getting longer and longer, and the collectives often, erm, had to get creative in order to get the necessary equipment, spare parts or anything else.
  • The planned economy also worked like a strictly hierarchical pyramid, and norms were dictated from above based on fake production data from further down. As a result, the norms became increasingly insane, and the collectives and low bureaucrats falsified the figures all the more in order to “fulfill” the unrealistic quotas on paper 鈥?and at every level of the pyramid. In other words, the decisions from above were based on completely insane and falsified data. The bureaucrats in Moscow were more blind than blind, but continued to issue ordinances from above that only exacerbated the problems.

  • Poor infrastructure. The Soviet Union placed more and more emphasis on increasing production, but the problem of infrastructure was hardly or not seriously addressed.
  • Much of the agricultural production rotted at the stations and depots before it could even be brought to its destination. The railways and roads were simply not sufficient to store the entire production well and to transport them in a timely manner.

    Another factor was weather and geography,as the most productive areas of the USSR were relatively close together and east-west.In other words, a single unfavorable storm could destroy much of the crop. In the US and Canada, agricultural areas are more diverse and more or less north-south 鈥?and as a result, the risk of harvesting was much lower. Furthermore, the season is much longer in the USA and especially in the south the weather is much milder.

    Another important thing was the massive and wasteful consumption of water and chemical fertilizers.The Aral Sea, for example, has almost disappeared. [2 The massive and almost indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers exacerbated the precarious environmental situation and, in the long run, the fertilizer became less and less like a drug.The lasting damage is enormous. But in the end, this was the excess of the planned economy.

    But in the opinion of the professor, this was rather incidental and the first three factors were the most important.


    On the sidelines, a funny story by Professor Borlaug.

    He tried to explain to us urban children the differences between Soviet and American tractors in order to make the contrasts clear.Somehow, however, he did not come across a sensory image, with which most participants can do something.

    Then he asked if we know Steiger tractors.(This was a Minnesota company known for its luxury tractors鈥攂ack in the 1980s, already fully air-conditioned, with leather seat and hi-fi stereo, even with CD drive. You can often see them in the fields, unmistakably because they are bright green.) [3

    Sure, we know.After all, they can hardly be overlooked, especially since they are usually huge. Here is a picture of a Steiger Panther from the time:

    Source: Wikimedia Commons

    He then said that if an old farmer like him climbs on such a tractor, it is enough for a huge orgasm.

    We 16-year-olds were so amazed to hear something like this in class from this old gentleman, there was a noticeable pause until we started laughing.


    [1 Norman Borlaug – Wikipedia

    [2 Aral Sea – Wikipedia

    [3 Steiger Tractor – Wikipedia

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