Agriculture in Russia in the Early Twenty-First Century








Russia is a major importer of food. In most years, at least 20 percent of all food consumed is imported. Russia buys food from the United States, western European countries, and the former Soviet republics.

Agriculture in Russia faces severe climatic limitations. As a result, average productivity per acre is much lower in Russia than in the United States. Yearly agricultural production in Russia varies greatly. Some years, production is three times more than average. Then, in other years, production drops to one-third of the average. The bulk of Russia's farm products are produced in areas climatically similar to the northern Great Plains of the United States (North Dakota and Montana). Russia produces much less food per acre and animal products per animal than does the United States. For most major crops, Russian yields are 50 to 80 percent lower per acre. Even the milk yield per cow is 40 to 50 percent lower than in the United States. As a result of these serious problems, Russian citizens face periodic food shortages.

Russia is a highly urbanized country that cannot adequately feed its people. Roughly 25 percent of Russia's people live in rural areas and 13 percent work on farms. In contrast, about 25 percent of U.S. residents live in rural areas, but fewer than 2 percent work on farms. In 2001, a Russian farmer produced enough food to feed six people. At the same time, an American farmer could feed more than 170 people. Russia's agricultural underperformance is tremendous, resulting in much rural poverty. The breakup of the Soviet Union left Russia with little productive agricultural land. Less than 8 percent of the nation's vast territory can be used for crop farming. The current problems in rural Russia will have a significant impact on the country's economic future. Considerable state investments in agriculture are needed to improve the food-producing capabilities of Russia's land.

Attempts have been made since 1991 to reform collective and state farms. When they were offered a number of options by the government, most collective and state farms opted to change their status. Many reorganized themselves as farmworker partnerships, joint-stock farm companies, or farmer cooperatives. Not many private household farms were created.

In spite of changes in legal status, there has been little real change in the way farming is done. Russian farmers, in general, are unwilling or unable to take the risk of establishing private farms. Those who work to become independent producers like American farmers face hostility from their neighbors and local officials. Today, at least, private farming is not a practical option in rural Russia.

Agricultural production has disappointed Putin and other reformers in the Russian government. Bread is the basis of the Russian diet. Today, however, Russia must continue to import grain and other food for its people and feed for animals.

To improve their diets, many city dwellers have purchased small plots of land in the countryside to grow their own food. Urban food shortages and high food prices have encouraged those who live in cities to return to the land. This trend to an urban semisubsistence form of life reveals the seriousness of Russia's food-producing problem.

Russian government subsidies to agriculture remain huge, yet almost 50 percent of agricultural enterprises operated at a financial loss in 2000. This is an amazing percentage.With few exceptions, per-capita consumption of basic foodstuffs is lower today than in 1991. It will be decades before Russia can increase agricultural production to a point where it will raise living standards.