Weather variations and agricultural production

This period was politically very complex, and there are many problems concerning the availability and reliability of Soviet statistical data on agricultural production in Russia. The size of the grain harvest in 1918 and 1919 is difficult to establish with any precision because peasants concealed the extent of the sown area and harvest from the authorities. The 1920s are better covered in statistical and historical materials in relation to agricultural production and climate conditions. One of the most important sources of information about weather conditions and the state of the harvest, as well as food problems, are the unique materials of the KGB recently released and published in Russia (Berelovich and Danilov, 2000a, c). The materials represent a collection of reports that were prepared by local KGB officers for the center. Besides political events the reports contain much regional information about the state of harvests, and sometimes weather conditions. The report of the Central Administration of the Unified Hydrometeorological Service of the USSR (TsUEG), published in 1933, gives details of the droughts of 1921 and 1924 but not of 1920 (Opytpredvaritelnogo analiza..., 1933). We have constructed maps of the cereal yields and areas affected by the droughts for these problematic years on the basis of the drought index (HTC) devised by Seljaninov (1966).

During this period political factors played a decisive role in the dynamics of agricultural production in Russia, as illustrated by the calculations made by Wheatcroft (Wheatcroft and Davies, 1994). His "drought index" assesses how far the annual fluctuation in the degree of drought in late spring and early summer might be expected to affect the grain production. This estimate of annual fluctuations in yield due to the weather was then compared with the extent to which the actual yield in each year differed from long-term expected trends in yields (see Table 5.7. in Chapter 5).

Weather conditions were markedly less favorable between 1920 and 1924 than between 1909 and 1913, and between 1925 and 1929. It would be no exaggeration to say that the weather between 1920 and 1924 was the worst in the first decades of the twentieth century. Wheat-croft's formula shows that, in terms of climate during this extremely unfavorable period, the weather was responsible for only 40 percent of the decline in the grain harvest while 60 percent should be attributed to political factors. Between 1925 and 1929, the weather was only slightly

Figure 4.2. Scale of drought and grain production in European Russia, 1916-1928

Figure 4.2. Scale of drought and grain production in European Russia, 1916-1928

Source: Statisticheskii ezhegodnik: 1918-1920, 1921; Selskoe khozyastvo SSSR: 1935, 1936; Kochetkov, 2000; Statisticheskii ezhegodnik: 1921, 1922; Sbornik statisticheskix svedenii po Souzy SSR: 1918-1923, 1924.

worse than average and the influence of political factors in the reduction in grain production increased to 80 percent.

Indeed, the period between 1920 and 1924 was extremely unfavorable in terms of weather conditions, and in any other political situation such weather alone could have resulted in a serious shortfall in agricultural production. However, in the hostile political environment of the 1920s, this poor weather led to catastrophe for millions of Russian peasants. In three out of five years, large-scale droughts affected the coun-try—in 1920, 1921, and 1924. These three years were characterized by the lowest harvests during the 1920s, as shown in Figure 4.2. Although absolute figures for grain production in Soviet Russia for some years are conflicting and certainly exaggerated, we believe that in general this graph reflects the main trends in grain production in Russia during this period. Figure 4.2 shows that total grain production does not match climate characteristics. Reduced production is explained largely by the decline in sown area and the general destruction of agriculture. The country failed to gain any advantage from the good weather which occurred in some of those years.

Table 4.4. Cereal yields in major regions of the USSR (centners per ha)

Regions

1918

1919

1920

1921

1922

1923

1924

European Russia

7.0

5.6

4.2

3.6

6.3

4.8

3.4

Central Black Earth

7.1

5.9

4.2

4.9

6.9

5.4

3.3

Volga-Vyatka

8.5

5.6

4.3

2.2

5.8

3.9

6.0

Middle Volga

9.1

5.9

2.5

1.6

4.4

3.5

2.4

Low Volga

4.1

3.6

1.3

0.6

3.3

2.4

0.3

Urals

7.2

6.6

4.6

3.4

7.1

4.8

6.3

North Caucasus

7.0

5.3

5.9

3.6

8.5

6.2

4.0

Western Siberia

8.0

7.8

4.5

5.4

6.4

4.3

3.1

Ukraine

7.2

9.2

6.8

5.4

8.3

7.5

3.6

Sources: Pre-war

data Statisticheskii ezhegodnik Rossii: 1913, 1914; for 1918-20

Statisticheskii ezhegodnik: 1918-1920, 1921; for 1921 Statisticheskii ezhegodnik: 1921, 1922; for 1922-24 Sbornik statisticheskix svedenii po Souzy SSR: 1918-1923, 1924; for 1924 (low estimate) Kochetkov, 2000.

Statisticheskii ezhegodnik: 1918-1920, 1921; for 1921 Statisticheskii ezhegodnik: 1921, 1922; for 1922-24 Sbornik statisticheskix svedenii po Souzy SSR: 1918-1923, 1924; for 1924 (low estimate) Kochetkov, 2000.

In 1920 a large-scale drought occurred in many regions of the productive zone of European Russia. Those most affected were the Central Black Earth, the Middle Volga, and Low Volga regions (Figures 4.3. and 4.4.). As Table 4.4. shows, the low official estimates of cereal yields in these regions were 50 percent less than in pre-war times. Cereal yields in the Middle and Low Volga were extremely low, indicating that most provinces in these regions were affected by the drought. The Central Black Earth region faced a serious decline in cereal yields, but not as catastrophic in absolute figures as in the Volga basin. This indicates that the situation in this region differed in the various provinces, with western provinces being less affected than others.

There is a lack of information about synoptic conditions for the drought of 1920. One peculiarity of the drought was that it affected central provinces of European Russia. This drought belongs to the "central type", and this geographical type is associated with a high risk of forest fires. In fact, the year 1920 was widely remembered since the drought was accompanied by numerous fires in many parts of European Russia in July. The fires were a real disaster for the country in that year. It was reported that whole districts of several Russian towns were devastated, for example in Saratov (Middle Volga). Many villages, large areas of forest, marshes, and reserves of peat stored at special sites, were destroyed by fire. Some fires lasted for weeks and consumed dozens of square kilo-

Figure 4.3. Area affected by drought in 1920

Figure 4.3. Area affected by drought in 1920

H, 26-50% ■ 76-100% Çj Moscow

meters. There were 385 large fires registered in the country. The most affected regions were the central (forest) oblasts of Russia—Moskovs-kaya (99 large fires), Tverskaya (31 large fires), Novgorodskaya (30 large fires) and Kaluzskaya (26 large fires) (Berelovich and Danilov, 2000c).

Figure 4.4. Cereal yield in 1920

Figure 4.4. Cereal yield in 1920

E] 0-0.2 tonnes per ha 0.41-0.6 tonnes per ha Non agricultural reg./no data

0.21 -0.4 tonnes per ha 0.61-1.0 tonnes per ha Moscow

Figure 4.5. Area affected by drought in 1921

Figure 4.5. Area affected by drought in 1921

The drought in 1920 heralded the catastrophe of the following year: the 1921 drought is a well-known tragic episode in the history of twentieth-century Russia. It affected a vast territory from the northern shore of the Caspian Sea across the Low and Middle Volga, the basin of the river Ural, part of the middle section of the river Don, and many districts of southern Ukraine and the Crimea. According to Soviet sources, the drought caused extreme crop failures in these regions, affecting 30 million people (out of the 66.5 million living in European Russia). Unlike the drought of 1920 it did not affect the Central Black Earth and Central regions.

According to Conquest (2002: 55), the weather in 1921, although bad, was not at disaster level, although the report by the Soviet meteorological service (TsUEG) (Opyt predvaritelnogo analiza..., 1933) describes the existence of a combination of different meteorological factors that made the weather situation in 1921 an extraordinary event.

The TsUEG report provides an analysis of some of the long-term patterns of droughts in the southeastern part of European Russia. The report uses meteorological statistics for the Saratov oblast (the Middle Volga region) as a "pulse" for droughts in European Russia. Two different regular alternations of groups of dry and wet years could be observed for the Saratov region for the autumn and spring seasons. In autumn, the group of dry years came approximately once in every 10 years, while

Figure 4.6. Cereal yield in 1921

Figure 4.6. Cereal yield in 1921

in spring the group of dry years came once every 15 years. The strongest drought occurred once every 30 years, when the coincidence of a dry autumn and dry spring was observed. Since the first recorded drought (in 1876), such situation arose only twice in 45 years, in 1891 and 1921.

The report gives details of the weather in 1920-1921. In autumn 1920, dry, cold weather dominated during October, November, and December due to a stable anticyclone centered in the basin of the river Kama and associated with an arctic air mass. The winter began much earlier than usual and was characterized by very low precipitation during the season in the Middle and Low Volga regions as well as in the southern part of European Russia. In March, a thin snow cover melted quickly, providing little or no moisture for the soil. In April and May, the anticyclone fed by a dry and warm air mass from the east produced very dry weather. Abnormally low precipitation was reported, and the drying out of the soil surface was regularly observed throughout the regions. The rivers became shallow, resulting in the interruption of boat and floating timber transportation in the basins of the rivers Volga and Kama. The situation changed in June when a cyclone affected these regions. However, the report claims that the rainy weather was too late to help the damaged crops. A comparison of figures 4.5. and 4.6., showing the area affected by droughts (according to the HTC) and cereal yields in oblasts in 1921, indicates that the area of high crop failure was larger than the area affected by the spring drought. This can be explained in terms of the weather conditions in the autumn and winter of 1920-1921.

A catastrophic decline in cereal crops (of 50 percent from the average level) was observed in all economic regions of the Volga basin, Volga-Vyatka, and the Middle and Low Volga. Among the regions affected by the drought were the Northern Caucasus and the Urals, where cereal yields were very low, although not as dramatically so in absolute figures as in the Volga basin. In total, in the Russian Federation, the drought destroyed more than 7 million hectares of crops, or 20 percent of the total crop area, including 3.2 million hectares of the winter crop (17 percent) and 3.9 million hectares of the spring crop (12 percent). One of the most important aspects of the drought was that the major productive regions of the country, which provided the largest surplus in average years, were strongly affected by the poor weather. In the Ukraine, total losses reached 3.8 million hectares of crops, or 26 percent of the total crop area. In the southern part of the Ukraine the proportion of damaged crops was very high, at 45 percent (Statisticheskii ezhe-godnik 1921, 1922), while the Crimea lost 46 percent of its crop. Thus three main regions of the USSR, which played the role of major grain buffers—the Ukraine, the Crimea, and the Northern Caucasus—all failed to produce a surplus of grain for the consumption regions in 1921. The single exception was Siberia, where an average harvest was recorded.

The year 1922 was more favorable in terms of climate. The weather was wet throughout the USSR. Soviet statistician P. I. Popov (1925) argues that the extremely poor harvest of 1921 destroyed the economy of some regions completely, but the excellent harvest of 1922, on the one hand, and the New Economic Policy (NEP) on the other, made it possible to begin the restoration of the crop area straight away. Only a few problems were reported in 1922. In the Middle Volga drought affected spring cereals, and the winter crop was damaged by weeds. By the end of the summer the weather had changed radically and heavy rain became the main negative factor affecting the spring crop, causing poor sowing conditions for the following year's winter cereal in the Volga basin (Berelovich and Danilov, 2000c). The statistical data presented in Table 4.4. confirm the crop failure in the Volga basin.

Little information was published in the Soviet Union about weather conditions in 1923. Popov (1925) says only that between 1923 and 1925, the state cereal balance was formed in unfavorable conditions associated with the relatively low harvest of 1923 and extremely poor harvests in some regions in 1924. Materials from the KGB show that spring flooding was associated with the poor harvest of 1923 in many regions of Russia, as was a rainy summer in parts of European Russia although there was a drought in parts of Siberia (Berelovich and Danilov, 2000a).

If the harvest of 1923 was poor, then the crop failure that occurred in the main productive regions in 1924 was disastrous. Unfortunately, official Soviet statistics for 1924 are questionable, as can be seen from a comparison of the low and high estimates of cereal yields for some regions (see next section). However, the TsUEG report includes the drought of 1924 in its list of "catastrophic droughts" that affected Russia between 1891 and 1940 (Opytpredvaritelnogo analiza..., 1933). According to this report, the drought of 1924 started in May and June and lasted for more than two months. During the winter of 1924, precipitation in the Ukraine was high in contrast to the Volga basin and east to Simbirsk (Ul'yanovsk), where no precipitation was observed at all. Thus there would have been considerable differences in the humidity of the soil in the Ukraine and the Volga basin. However, according to the report, by the end of May spring crops in both regions were in the same poor state. The cause was not though to be low precipitation but rather the abnormally high temperatures in May, which exceeded the norm by 2 to 2.5 degrees. The weather in June was also drier and warmer than May. Average temperatures for June exceeded the norm by 3 to 4 degrees and in some areas of the Ukraine (the basin of the river Donets) by as much as 5 degrees. This temperature anomaly was observed over a vast area to the south of a line between Chernigov, Orel, and Kazan. Figure 4.7. illustrates the location of the bad weather and shows that the drought was no less widespread than in 1920 and 1921.

The drought of 1924 affected the key agricultural regions of European Russia—the Ukraine, the Central Black Earth region and the Northern Caucasus. On the whole, this zone was characterized by precipitation being only 60 percent of the norm. In some places, such as Volgograd, Penza, Tambov, and Voronezh, the figure was as low as 5 to 20 percent of the norm, which resulted in damage to both winter and spring crops.

The KGB materials for 1924 confirm this shocking picture. It was reported that during the first half of the summer, in many districts of Volgograd province (Middle Volga), 100 percent of the winter and spring crop were destroyed by drought and strong, dry winds from the

Figure 4.7. Area affected by drought in 1924

Figure 4.7. Area affected by drought in 1924

_| Non agricultural regions

_| Non agricultural regions

southeast. In August, it was reported that about 99 percent of the rye crop had been lost in the Nemkommuna (German Commune) province of the Volga. In Saratovskaya oblast, 35 percent of the total crop area, including 22 percent of the winter crop and 58 percent of the spring crop, were destroyed by drought. In Samarskaya province, cereal yields reached only 1.6 centners per hectare, merely equaling the amount sown.

A further report stated that in the Central Black Earth region the drought continued throughout the summer and it was likely that 50 percent of the spring crop would be lost. Later it was reported that in the Voronezh province, 33 percent of the crop area had been destroyed by the drought. In some districts of the oblast 70 percent of the crop was lost. In August, a report was sent from Tambovskaya province complaining that the soil was completely dry and unfit even for ploughing. Later, rainy weather came to the region and the condition of the crop improved a little.

In August, in Stavropolskaya province (the Northern Caucasus), many districts faced crop failure and a deterioration in the quality of the grain due to the drought. The grain was in such a poor condition that it could not be used for human consumption, only for feeding livestock. One report from Terskaya province in the Northern Caucasus said that 49 percent of the crop had been destroyed (Berelovich and Danilov,

2000a). A poor harvest occurred in many regions in southern Ukraine (Odesskaya, Donetskaya, Ekaterinoslavskaya) and the Crimea. The average yield for Ekaterinoslavskaya province in the Ukraine was reported to be only 2.5 centners per hectare. In Odesskaya province, 30 districts suffered as a result of drought. In the Crimea, cereal yields were less than 3.2 centners per hectare.

There is a lack of meteorological information for the period between 1925 and 1928. Our estimate of the drought index (Figure 4.2.) shows a considerable improvement in weather conditions after 1925. This, in combination with a more reasonable policy, had a positive impact on grain harvests, as can be seen from the statistics.

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