Latvia - Agriculture

Under Soviet control, once-dominant Latvian agriculture took a back seat to industry. By 1990, the amount of agricultural land in Latvia decreased 32 percent from its 1932 levels. As agriculture was brought under state control, many of the former farms were abandoned and converted to forest. Half of the arable land was used for fodder crops for the cattle and dairy industries that supplied the Soviet Union. About 40 percent of the land was used to grow grain, and the rest was for potatoes, flax, and sugar beets. Meat, dairy products, and crops were shipped to other Soviet republics in exchange for equipment, fuel, and fertilizer. Small private plots and some animal holdings were permitted by the Soviet authorities. These plots served a vital role in supplementing the poor output of the inefficient collective farms. At the end of communist rule much of the country's livestock was held on such plots. When the Soviet system fell apart, however, feed shortages and rising cost of farm equipment created a decline in agricultural production in Latvia.

From 1994 to 1998 there was a general decrease in the production of meat products. Associated with this was a drop in fodder production. The most dramatic decline in livestock was in beef production and the least dramatic was in poultry. Milk production was down slightly while egg production increased. This is likely due to the economic austerity endured and the generally higher costs associated with meat product. Eggs, being a replenishable product, are a more economic form of protein. Production of cereals and potatoes decreased, but sugar beets doubled. This shift makes sense as the resultant sugar could be easily exported and bring in much needed hard currency . Forest products, such as paper and timber, also added to the economy through export. Even though agriculture declined in percentage of GDP in Latvia, it still accounted for 16 percent of the labor force in 2000.

Forests cover 40 percent of Latvian territory, with the majority of them being in the northern areas, which are 50 percent wooded. Over 11 percent of forests are protected, while the remaining forests are mixed between commercial and restricted management. Forest resources are not fully exploited, and if financial resources can be found to develop the industry, the number of annual cuts could be doubled. Local and international environmental organizations, of course, oppose such increased development

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