Soviet Agriculture Minister Valentin Mesyats today announced a 1976 record grain harvest of 223.8 million metric tons, an increase of 80 million tons over the dismal yield of the previous year.
"Any year, drought or not, our people can be assured that the country will always have enough bread and flour," Mesyats told a press conference.
But the minister, whose predecessor was fired last year, said the sugar beet crop, which has a major effect on world markets, was below target at 85 million metric tons.
He said if sharp frosts had not caused havoc at a crucial moment during the beet harvest, the final figure would have been well over 100 million tons.
Potatoes, also totalling 85 million metric tons, were affected by frost as well, Mesyats said.
The 48-year-old minister, like Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, a former Communist party official in the grain republic of Kazakhstan, said last year's record figure had been achieved despite very difficult weather conditions.
The sharp upswing from 1975 was due "to the massive organization and political work" carried out by the party among the farmers and to concentration of resources on agricultural development.
Mesyats said the harvest meant the Soviet Union had enough grain to meet its own needs but would honor its foreign purchase commitments under agreements already signed in the wake of the 1975 harvest.
He was referring to an accord signed with the United States last year in which Moscow agreed to buy between 6 million and 8 million metric tons of American wheat and corn annually for the next five years. Soviet purchases from the U.S. in 1976 totaled 6.6 million tons.
U.S. Department of Agriculture assistant secretary Richard E. Bell said that because of the prospective record crop, the Soviet Union probably will not have to increase purchases from the U.S. in the near future.
In later years, however, Soviet imports are likely to rise again because farmers won't be able to produce more than an average of 200 million to 205 million metric tons annually per year for the 1976-1980 period - 10 to 15 million tons short of Soviet grain needs - Bell stated.
[The U.S. currently has the largest wheat surplus since the early 1960s and could grow to nearly 1 billion bushels by next June 1, further lowering wheat prices, agricultural economists have forecast. U.S. farmers are continuing to plant large crops despite the lack of export markets and prices declined to a three-year low at the end of 1976. Canada and Argentina also have boosted the size of their wheat crops.]
Western experts have estimated that because of wet conditions during much of the 1976 harvesting up to 13 per cent of the weighed total may be accounted for by moisture, together with dirt, stones and other waste matter.
Some 18 per cent of the previous record harvest, the 222.5 million metric tons of 1973, was believed to have been similarly unusable.
The minister declined to speculate on the outcome of the 1977 grain harvest which Western agricultural experts in Moscow say the new season has made a sound start with favorable conditions for the winter sowing.
But he declared: "There can never be a catastrophe. Our socialist economy ensures that. Only a country with a socialist system could have ensured that there was no disaster following a low harvest like that of 1975."
Mesyats said livestock of all categories had increased in number during 1976 and now stood at a higher total than before the 1975 harvest. The fodder situation was also better than in 1974-1975.
For the Soviet consumer higher prices came into effect today for carpets, silk fabrics, cut glass, made-to-measure clothes and certain categories of books.
Prices of some electrical goods and ready-to-wear clothes were cut by between 5 and 25 per cent. Increases in travel fares have also been announced for April 1.