President Mikhail Gorbachev announced that government collective farms will be leased to private individuals to expand production and curtail massive subsidies.
Gorbachev said late Thursday that the Soviet leadership will extend "to the whole of agriculture" an experiment that leased collective farmland to small groups and families who choose their own crops and keep most of the profits.The nation needs "solid, dependable results, already in the near future" for the supply problem to be eliminated, not just blunted, he said.
For decades, the large collective and state farms have been run like factories, with detailed orders from Moscow on what and when to plant handed down to the workers.
"We have made them from masters of their land into day laborers," Gorbachev complained. He said farmers must be restored as "complete masters" of the land and paid only for what they can produce to ease the Soviet Union's decades-long food shortages.
The Soviet leader's speech to a partial session of the Central Committee and farmers was the first broadcast of any such meeting.
The move was another step to dismantle a 50-year-old system of centrally controlled farming. Gorbachev did not say if collective and state farms would be eliminated, but said the continuing practice of paying them "unearned money" was hindering the leasing program.
Gorbachev said farm leasing is critical because it offers solid improvements in productivity.
By contrast, the Soviet Union has poured much money into collective and state farms in the past 20 years, with only a minimal level of production. Capital investment rose 140 percent during that time but production rose just 41 percent, Gorbachev said.
The newspaper Pravda said on Wednesday that Soviet agriculture wastes nearly $100 billion a year.
Gorbachev, who is also head of the Communist Party, said further "far-reaching plans" will be considered at a special meeting on agriculture to be held by the party's policy-making Central Committee in February.