Decatur, Ill. — A productivity revolution could make the Soviet Union self-sufficient in grain production in six years, says an American businessman who has quickly become a Western favorite of the Soviet premier. ``Mikhail Gorbachev has said he expects the USSR to be an exporter in six years by increasing the level of productivity in the Soviet Union,'' says Dwayne Andreas, chairman of Archer-Daniels-Midland of Decatur, Ill., the world's largest processor of farm commodities. ``I believe he can do it, because he knows how to do it.''
Gorbachev ``has put a lot of additional acres into private plots,'' Mr. Andreas says. ``He has put in an aggressive large fertilizer program.''
The Soviet Union has had a history of bad harvests, however, so it will take major reforms to meet its self-sufficiency target. Growing corn and soybeans is difficult because of the harsh climate, Andreas says, but rapeseed, sunflower seed, and cottonseed are doing fairly well.
The Wall Street Journal recently compared Andreas with Occidental Petroleum's Armand Hammer in his friendship with Soviet leaders. The grandson of Mennonite farmers, Andreas says he is motivated in his agricultural diplomacy by a desire to alleviate world hunger and says US-Soviet cooperation is essential.
``We can save 500 million people,'' Andreas told the Monitor recently. ``Fifty billion dollars would do it. We already have a surplus of grain lying in our bins. The cost of storing grain for three years is equal to the value of the grain itself. The cost of giving it away, if we already have it, is nothing.''
But the ``two giants,'' the US and the USSR, must ``get out of our adversarial position with one another and begin to coordinate our efforts.''
Andreas's association with Gorbachev dates back to 1984. The chemistry between the two is somewhere ``between very good and spectacular,'' says former US trade representative Robert Strauss, who has traveled with Andreas to China, Europe, and Russia. ``Gorbachev's eyes kind of light up when he sees him.''
Andreas heads the US-USSR Trade and Economic Council, which is composed of 32 American chief executives and 32 government ministers from the Soviet Union. The group meets each year in the US and USSR. From 1983 to 1985, Andreas chaired President Reagan's Task Force on International Private Enterprise.
The task force has recommended feeding starving people, building economies in less developed countries, and thus improving the capacity of others to buy from US markets.
The task force report, which went to President Reagan two years ago, ``could be the most important challenge we have with all of our surplus in agricultural commodities,'' says former secretary of agriculture Orville Freeman. ``It could be a great national contribution.''
Mr. Andreas's associates say his awareness of the hunger problem is longstanding. As a friend of the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, Andreas supported the Food for Peace program. Some 30 years later, Andreas says the hunger problem stems from ignorance.
``Anyone in this business knows it is possible to end starvation, and it is not expensive,'' Andreas says. ``No one wants to take on the responsibility. A prosperous America doesn't want to take on the responsibility. ... We should do it for self-preservation.''
Andreas has been figuring out the cost of storing grain since 1938, when a local banker asked his father, Reuben P. Andreas, to take over a bankrupt grain and feed business. Dwayne convinced his father to take the family-owned Honeymead Products Company into soybean processing. From 1945 to 1952, Andreas broadened his knowledge of international markets as vice-president of Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., an Archer-Daniels competitor.
Andreas sees farming as a global dilemma with government at its center. ``Before you can think intelligently and constructively about this, you have to understand there is no free market.'' He repeats this point three times. All over the world, he says, ``it is a struggle, and the farmers are the victims.
US Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter, who has spent much of his career in the agriculture and trade business, shares Andreas's concern. Mr. Yeutter calls the global farm problem ``critical.''
Andreas believes the way out of this is through a treaty. ``The next farm program will have to be a treaty between the EEC [European Economic Community] and the US, plus other surplus producing nations. Two facets of this treaty should be protection and consumption.
``This would include a worldwide soil conservation program plus sharing the responsibility of using surpluses. Soil erosion is not only a problem in America, but all over the world. We need massive programs to plant trees, hedges, and other things to extend the production life of the planet.''
He calls for a joint program to convert crops into edible, nutritious, low-cost products, such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, corn meal fortified with soy protein, and soy milk.
Mr. Yeutter looks to a critical meeting the first week of May in Paris of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has done much work on the method of quantifying products, he hopes the Western economic summit in Venice in June will also help bring some order to the agricultural situation.
But world hunger is Andreas's big concern. ``Hunger is the breeding grounds for totalitarianism,'' he says. ``If our country puts a high priority on stopping the growth of totalitarianism, we have to accept the fact that these countries have a basic right of freedom from hunger.''