Contrasts in efficiency
Agriculture in the Former Soviet Union, FSU is still experiencing many difficulties but agriculture in Belarus appears to be different.
As in other parts of the FSU, over 90% of cultivated land in Belarus is under collective control and yet the remaining, very small, private sector produces about half of the total agricultural output. On the collective farms, machinery is obsolete and harvest losses are in the range of 0.8t/ha at a mean cereal yield of 2.2t/ha.
The contrast is in fertilizer use and its efficiency. It has recovered well following the post-reform collapse and moreover it is well balanced with high K use to compensate for the low soil K reserves in the easily leached, light textured soils. On arable soils, current fertilizer use has increased to 51 kg/ha N, 23 kg/ha P2O5 and 73 kg/ha K2O. Even on meadows and pasture Belarussian farmers apply 36 kg/ha K2O. The pronounced use of potash has helped to improve the K balance from +5 kg/ha K2O after the reform to, currently, +21 kg/ha.
On average the response of crops to potash is very satisfactory ranging from around 5 kg cereal grains to 20 kg potato and 51 kg fodder beet per kg K2O. A favourable price/cost ratio from fertilizer use helps to promote all fertilizers, especially potash. N costs the equivalent of 1-2 kg cereal grains, P2O5 between 1.5 to 3 kg whereas K2O is the cheapest nutrient, costing between 0.3 to 0.5 kg grain per kg nutrient. About two-thirds of the mineral fertilizers used in Belarus are subsidized by 80% and allocated to collective farms. Dairy farms, and farms with high yields, receive the highest quota of subsidized fertilizers. However, fertilizer requirements exceeding allocation, and fertilizers for private land, are not subsidized and must be purchased at full market cost.
The dramatic changes that have taken place in the former Soviet Union in recent years are bound to have left anomalies of efficiency in supply, demand and pricing. It is to be hoped that whatever reforms are still to come, the valuable role that potash plays in agricultural productivity continues to be recognized.