1961: Corn Campaign

The Corn Campaign

Subject essay: James von Geldern

Just as he promoted the Virgin Lands Program as a solution to the grain problem, so Nikita Khrushchev touted the expansion of corn cultivation as a solution to the livestock problem. "There will be no communism if our country has as much metal and cement as you like but meat and grain are in short supply," he remarked in early 1954. To increase the supply of meat, Khrushchev sought at every opportunity to popularize corn as a fodder crop. Seed corn was imported from the United States, a corn research institute was established in Ukraine, the Ministry of Agriculture issued a new scientific journal entitled Corn, a Corn Pavilion was opened at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, and sown acreage of corn rose from 4.3 million hectares in 1954 to 18 million hectares in 1955. Thanks to favorably hot weather during two successive years' growing seasons, corn harvests were abundant. It appeared that "Mr. Corn" ("Kukuruzshchik") had achieved another agricultural "miracle."

But rather than concentrating on more efficient methods of cultivating, fertilizing, and mechanically harvesting corn, Soviet agricultural authorities continued to expand corn acreage to areas lacking in appropriate climatic conditions and sufficient labor supplies. By 1960 total acreage had increased to 28 million hectares and reached 37 million by 1962. The latter year, cool and rainy in the spring and early summer throughout European Russia, proved disastrous for corn. Some 70 to 80 per cent of the acreage planted died. Even in southern regions, where grain corn harvests rose from four million tons in 1953 to 14 million in 1964, yields remained low and labor inputs averaged three times higher than inputs for wheat. What made matters worse was that all the while, hay production had declined throughout the country, from 64 million tons in 1953 to 47 million in 1965. Collective farmers' suspicions of corn as an "alien" crop were vindicated, but not before a great deal of damage had been done to Soviet agriculture and Khrushchev's reputation as a wise leader.