Russia harvested 133 million tons of grain in 2017, beating the all-time RSFSR record set in 1978. It has also been consistently harvesting more grain than in the Soviet years since the mid-2010s.
Here it is in a wider historical perspective.
Grain production in Russia from 1900-2012:
Graph via @burckina-faso, a pro-Soviet blogger, so can hardly be accused of bias.
Code: Red/blue lines = Total production (left scale; millions of tons); purple/green line = crop yields (right scale; centners per hectare)
Sources: Росстат, Симчера В.М. “Развитие экономики России за 100 лет: 1900-2000. Исторические ряды, вековые тренды, институциональные циклы”. – М.: Наука, 2006. и Растянников В.Г., Дерюгина И.В. “Урожайность хлебов в России. 1795-2007”. – М.: ИВ РАН, 2009
So we have approximately the following periods:
- Pre-Emancipation Tsarism: No improvement (see below).
- Late Tsarism: Slow improvement.
- Early USSR: Zero gains in output or yields between the early 191os and the early 1950s. Massive collapse during the Civil War, contributing to the 1921-22 famine with 5-10 million deaths. Stagnation during collectivization, accompanied by the 1931-32 famine with 7 million deaths; testifying, in effect, to its engineered nature. Small uptick in the late 1930s, enabled by electrification and tractorification, ending in another collapse during WW2, during which there were 2-3 million deaths from dearth on the home front; another famine in 1947 with 1.5 million deaths, which was not accompanied by a food production collapse either.
- Late USSR: Doubling in output and yield.
- Russian Federation (1990s): Collapse in output, though not so much in yield, during the 1990s; considering the depth of the economic crisis, and the fact that people continued to leave agriculture, this was not as catastrophic as it seemed. Russian Federation (2000s+): Strong recovery in both output, which since the mid-2000s has exceeded peak RSFSR values (above graph only goes to 2012), and what must be massive further increases in yield, which should now be around 30
Here is another chart showing Grain Yields in 1795-2007 in Russian Empire/USSR:
Source: В.Г. Растянников, И.В. Дерюгина (2009) – Урожайность хлебов в России.
This book was published under the aegis of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and is possibly the most comprehensive attempt to standardize the data on grain yields across the different accounting systems that have existed in Russia during this period.
This is an important detail, because as the economic history blogger @polit-ec notes:
It is known that the Tsarist statistics significantly understated the real volumes of production. This was caused by accounting, and the unwillingness of the peasants to disclose to the landowners the true state of their farms. To the contrary, the statistics of the Soviet era is known for large-scale exaggerations – and not only on account of individual directors who wanted to report on the successful implementation of the plan, but also at the state level to prove the advantages of socialism.
For example, in the Stalinist years, the crop was counted as the one that “could be gathered if there were absolutely no losses and theft of grain during the harvesting and threshing of bread. ” In the Khrushchev era, we went on to record the “barn harvest” – crops actually collected and deposited. But already in 1966, the category “collection” was introduced instead , which again led to “creeping falsification” of statistics. In the last pre-Gorbachev years, in the face of growing food difficulties, data on harvesting and grain yields disappeared altogether from the pages of statistical yearbooks of the Central Statistical Administration of the USSR. The ban on their publication was withdrawn only in 1985.
What leads to this disparity? Quite often we can see how one author cites data from pre-revolutionary publications; another cites the archival documents of the 1930s; the third relies on late Soviet statistical compendiums; and no one suspects how different the counting methods used in these sources are. It is clear that there can be no talk of any intelligible comparison. Therefore, the monograph under consideration, where information on yields, as they say, is “reduced to a common denominator,” is of great interest.
One can again make several observations from the yearly statistics given in the book’s statistical tables.
(1) Russia had an average crop yield of 7.2 centners/hectare in 1916, and 6.4 centners/hectare in 1917. This was bad relative to late Tsarist Russia’s largest ever harvest of 1913, when yields soared to 8.7 centners/hectare; its second largest ever harvest was during the war year of 1915, when it almost matched the previous record holder at 8.6 centners/hectare. But it was hardly any sort of catastrophic collapse. Russian soldiers were better fed in 1917 than their German counterparts. Even in 1918, when the country was already in full scale collapse, the harvest was still at 6.0 centners/hectare, which would make it higher than the average 5.9 centners/hectare during the crisis period of 1905-1907 – when there was no famine. So much for Soviet claims that Russia in 1917 was inevitably on its way to famine and collapse.
(2) On a macro level, crop yields were slowly rising ever since the Emancipation of 1861, all the way to World War I. Meanwhile all the early Soviet efforts at mechanizing agriculture through electrification and tractorification were completely nullified by collectivization, dekulakization, and Lysenkoism. The only year during the first three decades of the USSR’s existence when yields exceeded the Russian Empire’s 1913 figure was during the bumper harvest of 1937; the next year would be 1956. Only half a century later, from 1964, did the USSR start to consistently get higher crop yields than in 1913.
@polit_ec recounts a joke that the initials of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) could be decoded as “Second Serfdom (Bolsheviks). (Был такой старый анекдот: как расшифровать название партии ВКП(б)? Ответ: Второе крепостное право (большевиков).)
For comparison, here are historical American wheat yields:
Michael Costolo: Feeding America: The Extraordinary Increase in US Farm Productivity. Figures are given in bushels per acre, so (if my calcs are correct) they should be increased by 50% to be comparable with the centners per hectare measure given for Russia. [Comment: Your math is off when comparing US data (bushels-per-acre) with USSR data (centner-per-hectare). The conversion factor is approx 0.67 for conversion from bushels-per-acre to centners-per-hectare. Instead, you multiply bushels-per-acre by a conversion factor of 1.5 – that’s an operation that should in fact be used for a conversion of units in opposite direction.]
If you would use the correct conversion, the yields from the two different regions would actually be actually much closer to each other.
In the US, there was no increase in crop yields from the 1860s until the 1930s. However, they started from a much higher base, suggesting that Russia had much more room to catch up – and which was indeed happening.
Meanwhile, from the early 1930s, American crop yields veritably exploded – quite an impressive feat, considering this was the age of the Dust Bowl – and wheat yields almost trebled to about 50 centners/hectare by 1990. In contrast, the RSFSR’s grain yields never came close to 20 centners/hectare.
Current figures would be around 75 centners/hectare for the US and 30 centners/hectare for Russia.
It is probably legitimate to compare US wheat yields to Soviet grain yields because wheat was the staple Soviet, and now Russian, crop.
However, it should be noted that the gains in overall US grain yields – which came from a higher base – would have been even sharper, since its staple crop is corn. Corn yields rose fivefold from the 1930s to 1990.
Now Russia is gaining rapidly in relative terms, but from what is still a significantly lower base (~40% of the US level in wheat).
TLDR: Russian crop yields were slowly going up in relative terms to the US from 1860-1915. They were then stagnant until 1955, while the US took off around 1935. The US massively increased its lead from 1935 to 2000. Russia has been catching up again since 2000.