Soviets may rely more on private farms

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Soviet planners foresee a slightly bigger role for private farmers in the nation's largely collectivized agricultural system. That marks a turnabout for a country that officially reckons agricultural collectives and state-owned farms to be the greatest thing since sliced bread (which, by the way, is not widely available here).

Plans call for private-sector production to account for 30 percent of agricultural output in coming years. Now, it is generally thought to be about 25 percent.

Pyotr Paskar, first deputy chairman of the Soviet Union's State Planning Committee (Gosplan), gave no explanation in a press conference here as to why the role of private farms would be expanded.

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Private plots constitute only about 3 percent of all arable land. Yet they produce more than one half of the country's potatoes, a third of its vegetables, meat, milk, and eggs, and a fifth of its wool.

Soviet officials are defensive about these figures, because they support the notion that private ownership of the land is far more efficient than collectivization or state control. In fact, the Soviets stopped printing many of the statistics on private agricultural production in 1980.

In the press conference, Mr. Paskar said that food production is improving here, as is the Soviet standard of eating.

But, he conceded, ''The diet of our Soviet people still needs improvement.''

Paskar said that the state had written off some $12.4 billion dollars in loans to unprofitable and marginally profitable farms. Also, total agricultural production for the year, according to Gosplan, is about $170 billion, a 5 percent increase over 1982. About the same increase is planned for next year.

Western analysts will be watching the figures carefully, because they will be key indicators of the overall state of the Soviet economy.

Indeed, Paskar himself said that the Soviet Union's food program is ''one of the most important components of the economic strategy of our party in the coming decade.''

Total grain production is hard to assess, since the USSR stopped reporting it in 1981. When asked for the total 1982 and 1983 grain harvest figures, Paskar replied: ''As for a specific figure, I can't name it. We are still in the process of counting that.''

But he said that 1983 production ''greatly exceeded'' that of 1982, generally confirming Western estimates.

Paskar indicated that long-range plans call for the Soviet Union to ''minimize'' grain imports. But most Western analysts believe that will be a long time in coming.

In 1981, the last year for which firm figures are available, the Soviets spent over $6.3 billion of hard currency on imported grain - fully 50 percent of their hard-currency earnings from oil exports.

The imported grain is not for bread. Paskar says the USSR is self-sufficient in bread grains, and even exports a bit.

It is used for animal feed, which in turn increases meat production. Still, Paskar conceded, Soviet meat consumption is still not up to ''scientific standards.''

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