Hungary teaches USSR how to feed chickens -- and its people

The Hungarians are prudent in foreign policy and highly pragmatic when it comes to making money.

Thus they are teaching Soviet farmers the practicalities of how to raise chickens, even though they never question the quality of the Soviet Union's ideological ''eggs.''

In fact, signs are that the Russians, in their own way, are beginning to see in the Hungarian system what their own stagnant agricultural needs are. Last month, for example, the Soviet magazine New Times reported on it in enthusiastic terms.

Under a year-old agreement, a Hungarian high-technology farm cooperative is pocketing 80 million hard-currency rubles. In return, the Soviets will get 140 million broilers yearly when the project is complete.

Indeed, Hungarian farming is seen more and more as an object lesson for the communist bloc as a whole.

Recently Polish workers at a construction site in a town in southeastern Hungary were incredulous that the local butcher still had pork chops to sell at the end of the day. Visitors from a Romanian collective farm stood amazed before well-stocked Hungarian food stores that had no queues.

Over the past year, Western observers have found Hungarian shops as well stocked as those in Yugoslavia, which has established a reputation of plenty during 25 years of predominantly private farming coupled with minimal state agriculture.

Hungary has done as well by retaining the cooperatives founded on the old collectivization, but allowing them leeway for businesslike self-management. It has given encouragement, technical aid, and material incentives to small-scale farmers and the private plots of the farm co-op members.

One of its biggest cooperatives - the Babolna agriculture combine - has established a good reputation, not just at home, but among agriculturalists in Western Europe, the United States, and the third world. Now Budapest's biggest ally seems to be catching on.

Babolna was founded on the vast estates of the former landed gentry in western Hungary, with a century of good husbandry - and acute peasant poverty - behind them.

It preserves some of the late 19th-early 20th century tradition. For example, it continues to breed mettlesome horses for the four-in-hands people such as Nikita Khrushchev and Britain's Duke of Edinburg have enjoyed trotting over its broad acres.

But its current fame is based on massive intakes of modern technology that have made it one of the most acknowledged agricultural estabishments in all of Europe.

It was in the late 1960s that Babolna acquired the technology of the Illinois-based Corn Production System, Inc. Its pilot run on 15,000 acres was so successful that within a decade more than 300 state cooperatives and numerous small holders had applied the methods to at least 11/2 million acres.

Throughout Hungarian agriculture at this time, traditional production methods were being replaced by new technological processes, mainly from the West. New plant and animal species were introduced.

Government-funded study tours provided thousands of Hungarian specialists with first-hand knowledge of Western developments and led to cooperation with big Western farm enterprises. Average yields approached the best Western figures.

Last year's corn crop, for example, set a record. Import and cross-breeding of Holstein-Frisian and other West European cattle have boosted milk production by 30 to 40 percent in the last few years.

Old, ideologically motivated restrictions on small farming and private plots have been swept away. The private farmer has, in practice, been made a partner in the state food industry - with enormous benefits to the consumer.

Last year, he delivered 70 billion forints (over $2 billion at the current exchange rate) of produce to the market.

A recent venture lets the cooperatives make contracts with small groups of its own members to undertake special jobs in wheat and corn production or chicken farming, and themselves then share directly in the surplus profit earned by the cooperative.

A landmark development is the contract for Babolna to establish four major farms, made up of more than 500 poultry units, in the Kiev and other western Soviet regions.

Babolna provides the stock for each unit and specialists to train future Soviet poultry farmers in its special technologies in breeding, feeding, and egg production.

Now the Soviets are talking with the Hungarians about bringing in their corn production system.

Romania could also learn a lot from Hungary. Romania collectivized its farms 20 years ago, but a recent official report admitted that one-third of the able-bodied workers in the collective farm labor force still make no actual contribution to the work of the farms.

Romania has imported top-quality farm technology and equipment, but the peasants feel no incentive to work, and there is a constant migration of young males to the towns. Often the authorities have to mobilize the entire rural population, adding troops, students, and school pupils in virtually compulsory labor, to get essentials done.

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