Some weeks ago I promised you a post on the Russian wheat harvest, but then never delivered. Stuff happened, and there were more important stories.
It’s one of those good news/bad news stories:
The good news is that Russia is enjoying its best wheat harvest in decades; probably since Soviet times.
The bad news is that people with gluten allergies will have that much more wheat to avoid, out in the broader world.
Why The Success?
Why such a successful harvest this season? I don’t know, but apparently one of the factors is the economic sanctions against Russia on the part of Western nations. One of those things which scientists call a “paradoxical result”. Another factor is the benevolence of the weather gods. If I may quote Mercouris:
The record grain harvest is in part the result of favourable weather conditions this year. However there does seem to be a steady improvement in farming conditions, with more land being brought into cultivation and Russia growing and harvesting its crop more efficiently
Mercouris goes on to say that there is a downside to the bumper crop, as much of the wheat is of lower quality. But that’s wheat, so what can you expect? Everybody knows that gluten-infested stuff isn’t good for you.
But on a more upbeat note, let’s run the numbers: According to Alexander Korbut, Vice President of the Russian Grain Union:
“We suspect that this is shaping up to be the second biggest harvest throughout the entire history of Russia. We are not going to exceed 124 million tons, but 120 tons is actually realistic. The Russian record throughout its entire history is 71-72 million tons.”
As of the time of writing, around 102 million tons of grain have been milled in Russia, with an average productivity of 26.9 hundredweight per hectare. The amount of land is 38.2 million hectares which are currently around 80.9% harvested. This is an increase of 900,000 hectares over last year.
These numbers, which I took from the PolitNavigator piece, are larger than these numbers from the World Grain website, which quotes 72 million tons forecasted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Not sure why the discrepancy. In any case, the Russian grain harvest is so big that Russia will not even be able to export enough of it to get rid of it. Hence much of it will go to animal feed.
Return From the Abyss
Like just about everything in Russia, this successful harvest is a symbol of a nation reviving from the abyss of the 1990’s and retaining some of the metrics that the nation once enjoyed in Soviet times. The topic of agriculture in Soviet times was always shrouded in a combination of secrecy and propaganda. Westie propaganda insisted that Soviet agriculture was a basket case – pun intended – ha ha! Westies could not allow anybody to believe that a collectivized form of agricultural property ownership could produce anything except famine and destruction. Therefore Westie propagandists pushed the idea that only private farmers are capable of growing stuff, while hypocritically doing everything possible (in Western countries) to destroy the traditional family farm in favor of oligarchical agribusiness.
Westie propaganda relentlessly mocked the Soviets for their obsessions with tractors (like tractors were a bad thing) and claimed the Soviet collective farms were not capable of growing anything more than a single turnip. Meanwhile, post-WWII Soviet harvests were getting to be actually pretty decent. The biggest Soviet problem was not productivity — mechanical solutions such as tractors, fertilizers and pesticides were effective, like they usually are — but infrastructure. There were years when the harvests were great, but the wheat then just rotted away in the fields, because the roads and transportation were not up to snuff. There is a lot more to agriculture than just growing stuff. One also needs refrigerated railway cars and trucks, roads and highways, that sort of thing.
Some time ago, when debating another blogger on this issue, I found this quite interesting piece, “Grain Production in the USSR” by a man named Felix Kogan. When you click on it, it’s a PDF, which you then have to open on your own computer, it’s perfectly safe to do that. Kogan worked for the USDA back in 1981 and wrote this analysis in collaboration with the Meteorology Dept at the University of Missouri. This is one of those serious pieces, written by serious people for serious people. Not lightweight propaganda for the knuckle-dragging masses. Kogan discusses in a serious and adult tone the problems and achievements of postwar Soviet agriculture.
Kogan talks about recent (from the POV of 1981) shortfalls in Soviet agricultural production, caused by weather patterns and other factors. But if you read further, it is a balanced and nuanced piece:
During the last 35 years, the average level of grain production in the USSR has almost tripled, from 65 million tons in 1946-1950 to 205 million tons in 1976-1980. This growth was connected with the process of technological improvement in agriculture-a process which can be observed in the majority of countries of the world. Utilization of fertilizers, which are the main factor of technological improvement, increased more than ten, times during the last 35 years in the USSR. At the same time mechanization of the whole process of grain production was substantially improved. The number of tractors and grain combines, the most important source of mechanization, increased more than four times. Significant increases in grain productivity was obtained through plant breeding. New varieties of grain crops dramatically increased their productivity, especially such varieties of winter wheat as “Mironovskaya-808,” “Bezostaya-1,” “Avrova,” “Caucasus.” Important results for increasing grain production were obtained by improving weed, insect and plant disease control, and soil management. Progress in increased grain production in the USSR during the post Second World War period was very great.
Kogan compares this post-war success story with more recent problems and shortfalls; but as one can see, this is no simplistic or tendentious “boy meets tractor” type mockery. Kogan does not fling poo about the awfulness of Communist Holodomor and peasants being driven into the fields at the business end of a whip.
Bottom line: The reality of Soviet agriculture was that it was reality-based. As is current Russian agribusiness. Everybody knows what it takes to grow more crops: arable land, water, tractors, fertilizers, insecticides, improved breeds, and all the other machinery of modern science and technology. A nation with fertile soil which follows these basic principles, invests in these things, and also enjoys the good fortune of the weather gods, is going to be successful in this arena. Regardless whether the miserable people out there working the fields are peasants, serfs, free farmers, yeomen, slaves, Cousin Clem or Mexican migrants.