Weather variations and agricultural production

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The Soviet Union was favored by an exceptionally long drought-free period between 1939 and 1945. There were only localized weather problems, for example in 1942 and 1945, when frost killed the winter wheat crop in the Volga regions (Sel'skoe khozyastvo Povolzhya, 1957). The 1943 growing season was relatively unfavorable: in central Russia there was too much rain, while in the south and east it was too hot and dry (Harrison, 1994). No information about weather problems is available for 1944, while 1945 experienced excellent weather conditions. Certainly any large drought during World War II would have had disastrous consequences for the country. This was confirmed during the first year of peace, 1946, when a drought occurred and famine followed (Wheatcroft and Davies, 1994).

Unfortunately, there is also a lack of agricultural statistics at regional level for the period of the restoration of the Soviet economy. No detailed analysis of the impact of weather conditions on crops can be made for the period. In general, the weather conditions of the restoration period (1946-1954) appear rather unfavorable. Soviet meteorological experts include 1946, 1948, 1950, 1951, and 1954 in their list of dry years (Rudenko, 1958). Thus, every second year of the post-war decade was poor in terms of weather. According to another Soviet report, the weather between 1946 and 1950 was the worst for the whole post-war period due to large droughts in 1946 and 1948 (Agroclimatichesky prog-noz..., 1978). The weather did little to help in the restoration of Soviet agriculture.

In this decade, technical factors were of greater significance than weather conditions for the performance of Soviet agriculture. The

Figure 6.2. Grain production and scale of drought in the RSFSR, 1945-1965

90 80

90 80

1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955

Grain production, ---Area not affected million tons by drought

1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955

Grain production, ---Area not affected million tons by drought

Source: for grain production Sel'skoe khyaztvo v Rossii, 2000.

steady restoration of the sowing area and improvements in agricultural techniques from year to year produced visible gains in grain production. The basic level of agricultural production was so low (less than 50 percent of the pre-war level for grain) that even modest progress appeared to be strong upward growth. It is characteristic for the whole restoration period (1946-1954) that gross grain production corresponded little to weather conditions, as shown in Figure 6.2. In this graph the weather conditions are indicated by the proportion of the sown area in the main agricultural zone not affected by drought on the basis of the Hydrothermal Coefficient (HTC) of Seljaninov. The graph shows that in drought years (1946, 1948, 1951) the size of the harvests was quite different. In general, statistical data on grain harvests look much better than one might expect from the descriptions of weather conditions found in Soviet sources for the period.

The worst year of the post-war decade was 1946 when a large-scale drought occurred in the USSR. The drought affected a vast area south of Moscow (Figure 6.3.). It covered the Central Black Earth region, the Volga basin, the basin of the river Don, and eastern and central parts of the Ukraine (Buchinsky, 1974). In total, more than 50 percent of the sown area of the USSR was affected by the drought (Protserov, 1950). It affected 16 provinces of European Russia and was accompanied by

Figure 6.3. Area affected by drought in 1946

Figure 6.3. Area affected by drought in 1946

0-25% ; j 51-75% ' ] Non agricultural regions jUJjJ 26-50% I 76-100% \~] Moscow

0-25% ; j 51-75% ' ] Non agricultural regions jUJjJ 26-50% I 76-100% \~] Moscow strong sukhoveii. The harvest of 1946 was the lowest of the decade in the Russian Federation (Figure 6.2.).

The drought of 1946 is described in many Soviet works, but assessments of the scale of the drought differ. Some Soviet experts believe that it was caused by an extraordinary meteorological phenomenon, comparable with the disastrous droughts of 1891 and 1921 (Zavarina, 1954). Protserov, for example, calls the scale of the drought colossal (1950). However, other Soviet experts point out that it was the tragic condition of post-war Soviet farming, not just the weather, that caused the serious effects of the drought (Popov, 1950). One Soviet report stated that the drought was definitely not the largest in the history of Russia and that of 1891 had been far worse (Rudenko, 1958). Moreover, this report denied the very existence of famine in 1946.

It is likely that the drought of 1946 was not the largest, but it was aggravated by the poor state of Soviet agriculture in the post-war decade (when even ploughing was a manual rather than a mechanical process). It is true that the summer of 1946 was one of the driest for many decades. In the whole period from sowing to the appearance of the ears of grain, only 16 millimeters of rain fell in the Ukraine. As a result of the exceptionally dry May (60 percent of the norm for precipitation) and an extremely hot June (4 degrees above average), the grain harvest fell 37

percent below average (Agroclimatichesky prognoz..., 1978). In Kursk province (Central Black Earth region), precipitation was reported to be as low as 10 millimeters, and in the Low Volga (Saratov) less than 9 millimeters (Zavarina, 1954).

However, the whole situation in terms of crop growth was probably not catastrophic. For winter crops (that occupied a large area in the affected regions) a reserve of soil moisture was no less important than summer precipitation. One study shows that in the Ukraine, summer precipitation usually supplied only 25 to 30 percent of the moisture while the rest came from the soil moisture that arose from autumn and winter rains. In the forest steppe zone, for example, spring barley transpires 130 to 140 millimeters of water during the vegetation period and only 55 millimeters of that is received through precipitation (Popov, 1950). Fortunately, the autumn of 1945 was quite rainy in most regions of European Russia. The soil was capable of supplying plants with 180 to 200 millimeters of "effective moisture". For spring crops, the most important reserve of moisture is in the top levels of soil, while for winter crops moisture in the deeper layers is also accessible. Thus the winter crops could yield a reasonable harvest in dry summers if the moisture reserves in the soil were sufficient.

There were also some peculiarities within the synoptic situation in 1946, giving different weather conditions. It was reported that heavy rains occurred in some of the affected areas. For example, in one area of Kirovograd (south of Ukraine), and some districts in the south Urals, good harvests were obtained due to these rains. The drought was often interrupted by cyclones in many regions of European Russia. It is also important to note that the drought of 1946 did not touch Western Siberia and Kazakhstan. On the contrary, unusually rainy weather was observed in Siberia (Rudenko, 1958).

In 1947, a drought was reported in the eastern and southern parts of the Ukraine, but in other regions good weather prevailed. This good weather helped to overcome the difficulties caused by the drought of 1946, and the harvest was actually higher than would be expected from the trend (Figure 6.2.). In the following year, 1948, dry weather was observed throughout the whole summer in the Volga basin, where it strongly affected the crop (Zavarina, 1954). According to one report (Agroklimatichesky prognoz., 1978) the situation in the Volga basin was even worse than in 1946. The report states that in May only 59 percent of normal precipitation was recorded. More importantly, there were unusually high temperatures, reaching 3.6 degrees above average in May and 3.0 degrees above average in June. There was a 36 percent fall in grain production in the Volga region (in 1946 the figure had been 28 percent). In the Ukraine no rain fell for more than 115 days in some areas. The dry weather also affected the North Caucasus that year. As a result, the gross grain production of the USSR in 1948 was lower than in 1947, despite an increase in the sown area.

In 1949, there were reports of dry winds in a number of regions. In some southern areas of the USSR, spring sukhoveii killed 70 to 75 percent of the winter and spring crops. In some places the crops were destroyed completely (Zavarina, 1954). Other regions obtained relatively good harvests and the overall grain production was high.

In 1950, dry weather affected eastern parts of the Central Black Earth region, the Low Volga, the Middle and Lower Don, eastern and central Ukraine, and the Northern Caucasus. The center of this weather was the Middle and Low Volga. In the following year, 1951, drought was again concentrated in the Low Volga. In that year drought and sukhoveii were observed in Western Siberia and the North Caucasus. However, Soviet reports ensured that the dry weather that year did not have a serious effect on the economy of the country (ibid.).

The next poor year was 1953. At that year, in southern provinces of Ukraine, precipitation was only 2-6 percent of the norm (Buchinsky, 1974). Drought was also reported in the Low Volga (Volgograd province). In these two important regions the dry weather lasted the whole summer and autumn. In the Low Volga the dry weather continued to damage the young winter growth over 30 percent of the area in the autumn of 1953.

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