Weathering the Soviet Countryside: The Impact of Climate and Agricultural Policies on Russian Grain Yields, 1958–2010

in The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review
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Agriculture in Russia has always had to contend with unfavorable climate. At the same time, large-scale socio-economic experiments have also strained the country’s food production potential throughout the 20th century. The relative role of climate and state agricultural policies in affecting production of cereals was studied for the period of 1958–2010. The study used statistical yield modeling to explain the variations in observed yields with slowly changing progress in technology and management and weather variability. The correlation between the actual and weather-explained yields is moderate to high: measured at the level of the entire country, Pearson’s r is 0.74 and Spearman’s rho is 0.68. Further, we suggest that the residual yield variability can be explained partially with the influence of large-scale changes in agricultural policies at the state level. Between these policies, we consider the following key periods in the history of Russian agriculture: “Virgin Lands” campaign (end of 1950s), Kosygin-Liberman initiatives (late 1960s), Brezhnev’s investment programmes in response of stagnation of agriculture (late 1970s – early 1980s), Gorbachev’s “Perestrojka” (1985–1991), and land privatization and price liberalization (1990s).



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  • Provinces of Russia included in the studies. The shading represents model fit (adjusted R2) for Trend 1 models. Uniform gray shading represents important areas of grain production (Stolbovoy, McCallum, 2002). Notice that some areas of grain production (e.g., Chechnia) are not included into the study due to data unavailability.

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  • Actual and climatic modeled yields of cereals in Russia in 1958-2010 (centner per hectare): A - with linear regression on time (Trend 1); B - with 11-year running mean (Trend 2).

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  • Gains and losses of detrended actual grain harvests (A), potential climatic harvest (B), and residual, partially explained by the agricultural policies (C).

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