Grain Sector

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Grain Sector


the production, distribution, and marketing of grain. The production of grain is based on the cultivation of grain crops and legumes.

Prerevolutionary Russia The grain sector in prerevolutionary Russia was extensive and had low productivity. In 1913 grain and legume crops occupied 104.6 million hectares (88.5 percent of all planted area), and the average grain harvest for the years 1909–13 was 72.5 million tons—that is, 6.9 centners per hectare (ha). Russia produced 455 kg of grain per capita, approximately as much as did Sweden, France, Germany, and some other European states. Each year these countries imported large amounts of additional grain, but Russia annually exported 15–26 percent of the gross grain harvest. Often, especially in drought years, this policy created a serious food problem in the country. In the dry year of 1911, for example, about 30 million peasants were starving, but 824 million poods (13.5 million tons) of grain were sent abroad, significantly more than in good harvest years (the average annual export was 665 million poods [10.9 million tons] of grain, more than 26 percent of world export). The grain producers in Russia in 1913 included pomeshchik (landlord) farms (12 percent of the gross harvest, 47 percent of the grain marketed), kulaks (38 percent and 34 percent, respectively), and middle-level and poor peasants (50 percent and 14.8 percent, respectively). The primary causes of the low yield of grain and legume crops were pomeshchik land ownership with remnants of serfdom, the fact that most of the peasants owned little or no land, the technical backwardness of Russia, and the monoculture system. World War I inflicted enormous damage on the grain sector in Russia; plantings were cut and gross harvests decreased.

The USSR. The October Revolution opened up opportunities for comprehensive development in the grain sector. In the years immediately after the Civil War of 1918–20 and the elimination of the consequences of the severe drought of 1921, the Soviet people, led by the Communist Party, began restoration of the national economy, including the grain sector. From 1924 to 1928 the average annual grain yield in the USSR was 7.6 centners per ha, surpassing the prewar level (1909–13). But the amount of grain marketed dropped to 13 percent (as against 26 percent in 1913), because the primary grain producers were small peasant farms which marketed little of their harvest. In 1928 only 10.8 million tons of grain could be procured, and the shortage of bread interfered with the industrialization of the country and the rapid growth of cities and industrial sectors. The answer to the situation was to put Lenin’s cooperative plan into effect and change the Soviet countryside into a large-scale highly mechanized socialist economy. In the very first years the kolkhozes and sovkhozes achieved significant successes; plantings of grain crops were expanded (see Table 1) and gross grain harvests

Table 1. Areas planted in grain and legume crops in the USSR (in millions of hectares)

increased (see Table 2). The grain sector began to develop through expanded reproduction. From 1936 to 1940 the percentage of grain going to market reached 43 percent. During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) the fascist aggressors inflicted enormous damage on the USSR’s grain sector. In occupied territory the material-technical base of agriculture was undermined, and many kolkhozes, machine-tractor stations, and sovkhozes were destroyed.

The Communist Party and the Soviet government have always attached paramount importance to restoration and comprehensive development of the grain sector. The Program of the CPSU states: “The main element in further development of all agriculture and the basis for rapid growth in animal husbandry is an accelerated rise in grain production’’ (1971, p. 78).

Table 2. Grain harvest in the USSR (millions of tons)

The area planted to grain crops was expanded primarily through the addition of large blocks of virgin and long-fallow lands and the organization of highly mechanized grain sovkhozes. This made it possible to increase the share of grain harvests contributed by some economic regions: Kazakhstan went from 2.6 percent in 1940 to 15.5 percent in 1956–60, and Western Siberia went from 5.4 percent to 11.4 percent in the same period. As a result of the implementation of major state measures for intensifying farming (mechanization, the use of chemicals in agriculture, land improvement, and increases in farming know-how), USSR kolkhozes and sovkhozes achieved an increase in the yield of all agricultural crops, including grains. Whereas in 1909–13 an average of 6.9 centners of grain per ha was harvested, the average had climbed to 10.1 centners in 1956–60, to 10.2 in 1961–65, and to 13.7 in 1966–70; in 1971 the average yield was 15.3 centners per ha.

In the 1956–60 period the annual average grain production was 121.5 million tons; it rose to 130.3 million tons in 1961–65 and to 167.6 million tons in 1966–70. In 1971, 181.0 million tons of grain were harvested.

During the years of Soviet power, 26 percent of the increase in grain production has come from expanding planted areas and 74 percent is due to increased yield.

The structure of grain production has changed significantly. Whereas rye and oats were the basic crops in pre-revolutionary Russia in terms of planted area and gross harvest, wheat, the most valuable crop, has taken first place at the sovkhozes and kolkhozes. In addition there have been substantial increases in harvests of the leading fodder crops—barley and corn. Harvests of rye and oats have decreased. In 1970 grains and legumes occupied 57.7 percent of all planted area in the USSR, which included 31.6 percent planted to wheat, 4.8 percent to rye, 1.6 percent to corn, 10.2 percent to barley, 4.5 percent to oats, 1.3 percent to millet, 0.9 percent to buckwheat, and 2.5 percent to legumes.

Development of the grain sector has made it possible for the Soviet state to increase state grain purchases significantly (see Table 3).

Table 3. State grain purchases in the USSR (annual average)
Total, millions of tons27.934.247.951.666.073.3
Percent of increase over 1946-50 base237184137162

The principal grain-growing areas in the USSR are in the RSFSR (the .Central Chernozem, North Caucasus, Volga, and Western Siberian economic regions), Ukrainian SSR, and Kazakh SSR. About 93 percent of the total area planted to grain crops and more than 90 percent of the gross harvests are in these republics, and more than 96 percent of state grain purchases come from them (see Table 4).

Table 4. Grain production in the USSR by Union republics (1970)
 Planted areaYieldGross harvestState purchases
Millions of hectaresAs percent of all-Union totalCentners per hectareAs percent of all-Union averageMillions of tonsAs percent of all-Union totalMillions of tonsAs percent of all-Union total
RSFSR ..........72.760.915.6100.0113.560.745.762.3
Ukrainian SSR ..........15.513.023.4150.036.419.511.615.9
Byelorussian SSR ..........2.52. 116.9108.
Uzbek SSR ..........1.21 08.554.
Kazakh SSR ..........22.618.99.862.922.211.913.418.3
Georgian SSR ..........0.40.315.7100.660.
Azerbaijan SSR ..........0.60.511.674.
Lithuanian SSR ..........0.90.724.5157.
Moldavian SSR ..........0.80.729.3187.
Latvian SSR ..........0.60.523.1149.991.
Kirghiz SSR ..........0.60.517.4111.
Tadzhik SS R ..........0.320.36.944.
Armenian SSR ..........0.20 213.586.
Turkmen SSR ..........
Estonian SSR ..........0.30.321.3136.
USSR ..........119.3100.015.6100.0186.6100.073.3100.0

It is very important to plant the best regionalized varieties; they ensure an increase of 3–4 centners per ha in the yield of grain crops. In 1970 varietal plantings of grain crops (except corn) constituted 95 percent of the total planted area, including 99 percent for winter wheat, 97 percent for spring wheat, and 95 percent for spring barley. Varietal plantings occupied 99.9 percent of the area planted to grain corn. Many scientific research institutions are engaged in breeding plants and studying methods of cultivating grain crops; among them are the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Plant Growing (Leningrad), the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Grain Farming (Shortandy Station, Kazakh SSR), the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Legume Crops (Orel), the Krasnodar Scientific Research Institute of Agriculture, and the Mironovka Scientific Research Institute of Plant Breeding and Seed Growing for Wheat (Kiev Oblast). Before being put into production, new varieties are tested at plots in all soil-climatic regions. Varietal testing and variety regionalization are directed by the State Commission on Varietal Testing of Agricultural Crops of the Ministry of Agriculture of the USSR. State seed inspectorates maintain checks on seed quality. State purchases of grain are made by the network of purchasing organizations of the Ministry of Farm-Produce Purchases of the USSR, and the State Grain Inspectorate is assigned to monitor and inspect the quality of grain and its preservation.

Theoretical and practical questions of the organization, mechanization, and technology of the grain sector are treated in many Union agricultural journals, such as Zernovoe khoiiaistvo (Grain Farming, since 1972), Kukuruza (Corn, since 1956), Selektsiia i semenovodstvo (Plant Breeding and Seed Growing, since 1929), Mekhanizatsiia i elektrifikatsiia sotsialisticheskogo sel’skogo khoziaistva (Mechanization and Electrification of Socialist Agriculture, since 1930), Zemledelie (Farming, since 1938), and Vestnik seVskokhoziaistvennoi nauki (Bulletin of Agricultural Science, since 1956), as well as in republic and regional agricultural journals.

The prospects for development of the grain sector in the USSR were defined by the Twenty-fourth Congress of the CPSU. Agriculture was given the task of raising grain production in the 1971–75 period to an annual average of at least 195 million tons by intensifying grain farming through further mechanization and application of chemical technology and by expanding grain plantings on irrigated lands. In order to en-sure such a harvest, it will be necessary to produce 205–210 million tons a year by the end of the five-year plan.

World grain production. Grain and legume crops are cultivated on more than 53 percent of the world’s arable land. In 1970 world grain production was 1,248,400,000 tons, 71 percent of which was wheat, rice, and corn (see Table 5).

Table 5. World grain production
 Area (million hectares)Yield (centners per hectare)Harvest (millions of tons)
Average, 1948-521970Average, 1948-521970Average, 1948-521970
Corn88 1107.315.924.2139.9259.7
Millet and sorghum94.3112.

Between 1948 and 1970 world grain production grew 73 percent, because of intensified farming and increased yield of grains and legumes. Production of grain corn (86 percent) and barley (134 percent) grew in particular; the primary fodder crops, their growth is explained by the increased demands of animal husbandry. Because of the reduction in the number of horses, oat harvests have decreased by 13 percent. Among food grains, wheat harvests have increased by 85 percent and rice harvests by 83 percent. Harvests of rye, a less valuable crop, have decreased by 17 percent.

World wheat production is concentrated principally in Europe, North America, and Asia; the primary rice producers are the countries of Asia, and corn is produced mostly in North America (see Table 6).

Table 6. Grain production by continent (1970, million tons)
 Europe1North and Central AmericaSouth AmericaAsia2AfricaAustralia and Oceania
1 Without USSR
2Without USSR and People’s Republic of China
Wheat66 84908047.28.08.3
Millet and sorghum0.420.84.321.620.90.8
Rice1 85210.2179.37.60.3

The socialist countries produce 36.4 percent of the world’s grain (the USSR alone is responsible for 15.4 percent); the economically developed capitalist countries produce 30.8 percent; and the developing countries produce 32.8 percent. The largest grain producers are the USSR, the People’s Republic of China, and the USA (see Table 7).

Table 7. Grain production by country (1970)
(millions of hectares)
(centners per hectare)
Gross harvest,
(millions of tons)
1 Figures for the People’s Republic of China are taken from an estimate by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)
People s Republic of China1112.916.1182.3
West Germany5.233.417.4
Great Britain3.835.413.5
East Germany2.327.96.5

The type of grain crop produced differs from country to country, depending on soil, climate, and economic conditions. Thus in the USSR wheat is the leading grain crop harvested, whereas it is rye in Poland, barley in Great Britain, corn in the United States, and rice in Japan and India.

The world grain market. In 1969–70, 102 million tons of grain (8 percent of gross production) was delivered to the world market, including 48 million tons of wheat (15 percent of the gross production). The primary wheat exporters were the United States (13.8 million tons), Canada (7.3 million tons), France (6.7 million tons), Australia (5.3 million tons), and Argentina (2.5 million tons). The USSR is also a major exporter. About 40 percent of world wheat import goes to Asia—the People’s Republic of China (3.2 million tons), India (3.1 million tons), and Japan (4.3 million tons)—and more than 35 percent goes to Europe—including Great Britain (4.9 million tons), West Germany (1.3 million tons), Italy (1.4 million tons), and the Netherlands (1.6 million tons). In Africa the leading wheat importer is Egypt (2.2 million tons), and in Latin America it is Brazil (2.4 million tons).

Only 2.4 percent of the gross world harvest of rice is delivered to the world market because this crop is cultivated primarily in those countries of Asia that consume most of the rice. The primary rice exporters among the Asian countries are Burma (500,000 tons) and Thailand (1.0 million tons); Egypt (800,000 tons) leads the African exporters. The world leader in rice export is the USA (1.9 million tons, or almost 50 percent of the American gross harvest). Rice importers are India, Indonesia, and the countries of Western Europe and Latin America. Japan was a traditional rice buyer, but in 1969 surpluses of rice began to accumulate in the country and Japan has gradually turned into an exporter.

The development of intensive animal husbandry has led to growth in world trade in fodder grain; in 1969–70 the volume reached 38 million tons, including 26.8 million tons of corn and 7.1 million tons of barley. The leading corn exporter is the USA (14 million tons), and France (3.2 million tons) leads for barley. Corn is imported by Japan and the countries of Western Europe; barley is imported primarily by Western European countries.

The intensification of grain farming in the economically developed capitalist countries usually leads to overproduction and accumulation of grain surpluses that cannot be sold on the domestic or world markets. In the USA, for example, on Jan. 1, 1970, carryover stocks of wheat reached 41.8 million tons and corn surpluses were 109.6 million tons. There are unsold grain surpluses in Canada and some other capitalist countries as well. The import of grain to Western Europe is decreasing each year, and surpluses are even accumulating. France, for example, has turned into a major wheat exporter. Steps are being taken in these countries to reduce plantings of grain crops. In the developed capitalist countries a decrease in the demand for food grain and the increasingly extensive use of grain for fodder are also observed. In the United States, for example, 62 percent (in 1968) of the harvested grain is used to feed livestock and poultry.

In the developing countries one of the primary agricultural tasks is to increase the production of food grain by introducing new, more productive varieties (for example, Mexican wheats and Philippine rice), expanding the use of mineral fertilizers, improving lands, and implementing other measures to increase farming know-how. Thus, in India grain production increased 70 percent between 1955 and 1970, primarily reflecting a growth in yield. The goal is to meet all the food grain needs of the population in the near future. But increasing agricultural know-how is made more difficult in many developing countries by the archaic agrarian systems that still exist, including gentry land ownership, high rent payments, the inability of peasants with little or no land to invest in new technology, and low state purchase prices for agricultural output. The socialist countries have enormous opportunities for development of the grain sector. In these countries fundamental social transformations and agrarian reforms have been carried out; grain production is increasing and its import is decreasing on the basis of intensified farming.


Brezhnev, L. I. Ocherednye zadachi partii v oblasti sel’skogo khoziaistva SSSR: Doklad na Plenume TsK KPSS 2 iulia 1970 goda, Postanovlenie Plenuma TsK KPSS, priniatoe 3 iiulia 1970 goda. Moscow, 1970.
Materials XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR v 1970 g.: Statisticheskii ezhegodnik. Moscow, 1971.
Ekonomika sotsialisticheskogo sel’skogo khoziaistva. Edited by E. S. Karnaukhova and LA . Borodin. Moscow, 1970.
Statisticheskii ezhegodnik stran-chlenov Soveta Ekonomicheskoi Vzaimopomoshchi 1970. Moscow [1971].
Production Yearbook 1970, vol. 24. Rome [1971]. (FAO.)
Agricultural Statistics 1971. Washington, D.C., 1971.
World Wheat Statistics 1971. London, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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