Khrushchev’s “Virgin Lands Project”

Stalin's death in 1953 led to a period in which the members of the Communist Party inner circle decided who would lead the Soviet Union. The man chosen was Nikita Khrushchev, who became the leader of both the Communist Party and the country. Khrushchev had a sincere desire to substantially improve the Soviet people's diet. In order to increase the availability of reasonably priced food, he ordered livestock production to be increased (for meat and milk).More vegetables and fruits were also to be grown.More animal feed crops were to be planted to support livestock and poultry production.

Khrushchev directed that corn replace winter wheat crops in Ukraine. In fact, corn was to be planted anywhere it might grow. To replace the wheat lost to corn planting, Khrushchev initiated the “Virgin Lands Project” in the steppe and semidesert areas of Russia and northern Kazakhstan. This project involved plowing up never-tilled lands and planting spring wheat.

In this dry to semiarid vegetal zone, land could be plowed, planted, and harvested in one year. From 1954 to 1958, more than 100 million acres (40.5 million hectares) of new land were placed under cultivation. Yields were low per acre, but so many acres of land were sown that wheat production increased dramatically. The diet of ordinary Soviets improved markedly.

Khrushchev also introduced economic reforms that provided more machinery, fertilizers, and better seeds for agriculture. He gave farmers cash incentives to produce more. A series of favorable weather and political events helped bring success. In 1958, farmers harvested 50 percent more agricultural products than in 1953 just before Khrushchev assumed control of the Soviet government.