Corn seems fairly common place to just about anyone who grew up in the western world, especially the United States. We are used to seeing the familiar crop in brands such as Corn Flakes, movie theater snacks in the shape of pop corn, or off the grill as “corn on the cob”. Simply put, corn is not that big of a deal to us and it is basically every where. If you have ever traveled by air and been over one of the many marvelous “fly over states” that the US has to offer, you may have noticed fields upon fields of corn being grown. Corn is virtually grown every where there is land to do it in the United States. We pioneered high fructose corn syrup and all the super healthy products that come from it, we can even power our vehicles with the ethanol produced from the crop. Believe it or not though, there was a time when the Soviet Union deprived their people of the illustrious corn life, that was until the 1960’s when Khrushchev saw that corn was the way of the future, and an absolute necessity for his people to have in order to compete with the west.
In the propaganda poster to the right, there is a woman holding up an ear of corn showing that the harvest was good, and that there is plenty of food to go around. The poster is from 1956, two years after Khrushchev initiated the virgin land campaign to add to the production of grain crops to alleviate hunger throughout the USSR. Corn was not a staple of the Soviet diet, but with the ever so common trend of food shortages continuing, and the virgin lands campaign in full swing, Khrushchev turned to introducing corn as a kind of savior crop to the people. He even established a corn research institute in the Ukraine, while the United States had things like Virginia Tech since 1872 that researched corn on the side.
The picture above,Time magazine cover, depicts Khrushchev in 1959 still on the campaign to improve the notion that corn production and consumption in the Soviet Union would be a good thing. The bottom line, if this build up isn’t indicative enough, is that corn pretty much failed to become of any note in the Soviet Union. Khrushchev saw corn as the salvation of the Soviet people. The crop was intended to greatly bolster the livestock industry and produce greater amounts of meat and dairy products as a secondary affect while providing another grain option for consumption.
Corn actually began to ruin agriculture production. The crop itself takes a significant amount of water and fertilizer to produce effectively. The seed was not native to the region, and the affects on the soil made crop rotations produce less yield than before in other crops that had done fine in previous harvests. Corn harvests went from 4 million tons in 1953 to 14 million tons in 1965, but the price to do so was staggering. Labor input was roughly three times higher than that of wheat, and the plant itself was not accustomed to surviving the harsher climates of the USSR, although much of the agricultural belt is on the same latitude as that of the American plains, the Soviets planted the crop in strange places, like Kazakhstan, the Caucasus, and even parts of Siberia…mostly because they were virgin lands, and why not,it’s not like Siberia was a hot spot of contested resources.
However, with terrible droughts and food shortages being a constant reminder to the Soviet regime of their failure at central planning, corn was not going to the wayside easily. In a 1962 news article named “Bounteous Corn”, the dream is set forth by a Russian columnist about the future possibilities of corn.
“The Ministry of Trade has given orders to several state farms and to the Russian Republic Ministry of Production and Procurement of Agricultural Products for the delivery of 40,000,000 tons of corn ears for Moscow, Leningrad, Sverdlovsk, and other industrial cities. It must be hoped that lightly salted boiled ears-tasty, succulent and nourishing-will be sold at stands, on pushcarts and in stores. There should be no fewer such pushcarts and stands than there are for ice cream.” http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13789239
Once cannot be certain as to whether or not the author of the article was paid off by Khrushchev, but there is a good chance. Trying to mobilize the people and the state to buy into the corn fad was a work in and of itself. It is somewhat comparable to President Nixon saying that Nebraska should grow nothing but beats, and that everyone in D.C., New York, and L.A. should be excited and ready to eat borscht and see borscht stands become more common place than hot dog stands.
The greatest line in the article “Bounteous Corn” sums this up nicely, “The propoganda of corn and its products is a matter of great importance, which demands daily attention and control. Let all of us together help corn take its deserved place on our dinner table.”http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13789239
So long story short, corn and Khrushchev shared a similar fate. Neither had a legacy that made a great impact in the Soviet Union. Corn faded away around 1965, and never really became the cash crop instant sensation that Khrushchev had hoped for. Although his intentions were noble in that he wanted to provide a steady source of grain that would provide abundantly for his people, his efforts were miscalculated and proved to be a historical flop.