Weather variations and agricultural production

The role of climate in the performance of Soviet agriculture during the decade is critical. If an increase in grain production was achieved despite poor weather, then Soviet agricultural policy may deserve a more positive evaluation than we granted it above. In the 1970s, some Western experts discussed this question in connection with the prospects for the development of Soviet agriculture in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For example, Severin and Carey (1978) believed that a considerable part of the gains made over 1965 to 1975 were the result of unusually favorable weather but that this trend would not continue and Soviet agriculture would inevitably find itself in a recession period in the next decade. These experts also referred to a CIA report that argued that weather was a key determinant of agricultural success and that over 50 percent of the increase in grain production between 1962 and 1974 had been the result of improved climate ("USSR: the impact of recent climate change", 1976). The CIA report said that a comparison of the climate since 1960 with the long-term average showed that the stable period of increased moisture in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the steppe and near-desert regions was unusual. It also indicated that a steady improvement of the climate in the grain-growing region, increased precipitation, warmer winters, and cooler summers, had occurred between 1960 and 1970 but that continued improvement was unlikely. The drought of 1975 may have signaled the end of a period of dependable moisture in these areas and a return to the more "normal" (that is to say, unfavorable) weather conditions of the early 1960s.

One Soviet meteorological report also evaluated the period between 1966 and 1970 as the best, in terms of weather, in the whole post-war history of Russia (Agroklimatichesky prognoz..., 1978). In contrast, the period 1970 to 1975 was regarded as being even worse than 1960 to 1965, when two large droughts, in 1963 and 1965, resulted in the fiasco of the virgin lands campaign. Between 1970 and 1975, the country also experienced two more serious droughts—in 1972 and 1975. Moreover, the Soviet report called the drought of 1975 the most severe in the history of the country in the twentieth century. In general it was concluded that weather conditions in the ninth five-year period had worked against Soviet farmers, while in the previous five years (1966-1970) the weather had greatly helped in achieving good harvests.

Our calculation of the share of sown area affected by drought for different years (on the basis of Seljaninov's Hydrothermal Coefficient) confirms that weather conditions in the first half of the 1970s were worse than between 1960 and 1965, while the years 1965 to 1970 were relatively favorable (but certainly not the best) (Figure 8.2.). Soviet agricultural statistics, however, show that average figures for harvests for the country as a whole, as well as for the regions (with the single exception of the Volga region), between 1971 and 1975 were higher than those for 1966 to 1970. There were opposite trends for weather and agricultural production in the USSR during the period. Weather conditions deteriorated, while agricultural production shows an increase during the decade. A comparison between the periods 1960 to 1965 and 1971 to 1975 is even more striking: two unfavorable periods in terms of weather conditions are characterized by a 40 per-

Figure 8.2. Cereal yield and scale of drought in the RSFSR, 1960-1975

Figure 8.2. Cereal yield and scale of drought in the RSFSR, 1960-1975

Source: grain production data Sel'skoe khozyastvo v Rossii, 2000.

cent difference in average grain production in the USSR (129.5 and 181.3 million tons respectively). Thus the steady increase in grain output through the Brezhnev-Kosygin agricultural reform period can be attributed to progress in Soviet agriculture.

In general, weather conditions between 1965 and 1975 were diverse, and Soviet farming still showed its usual vulnerability to such fluctuations. All reductions in harvests (1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, and 1975) were associated with droughts or dust storms in the main agricultural zone of the country. Despite steady growth in agricultural productivity there was no change in the scale of the variability of the yields, which remained at as high a level as in any other period of Russian history. Moreover, for some regions, such as the Western Caucasus and Western Siberia, the variability of yields increased in the period from 1945-1949 to 1971-1975 (Agroklimatichesky prognoz..., 1978). It was found that the application of fertilizers gave increased yields in relatively wet weather conditions but the effect became negligible if the weather was too dry (Rudenko, 1958). But the Soviet Union seemed to have learned how to minimize the damage caused by poor weather.

The first decline in this period in terms of gross grain production in the USSR occurred in 1967. Official Soviet statistics show that the drop was associated with a poor harvest in the virgin lands of Western Siberia and Kazakhstan (Table 8.8.). Only a few Soviet papers reported the reasons for the crop failure. For example, Sovetskaya Rossia (1968) mentioned that in 1967, Omskaya province (south of Western Siberia) suffered from a "horrible" drought. One Soviet meteorological report regards the drought of 1967 as relatively modest. The report evaluates the impact of the drought on the spring wheat that was dominant in the virgin lands. The dry weather in 1967 affected 30 percent of the sown area of spring wheat and destroyed the crop in an area amounting to 3 percent of the total sown area under spring wheat in the USSR. It resulted in a 10 percent decrease from the average yield of spring wheat in the country. The center of the drought was located in the south Urals and northern and central Kazakhstan (Trudy gidrometeorologicheskogo instituta SSSR, 1978). In Western Siberia, yields declined on average to 7.9 centners per hectare and in Kazakhstan to 6.3 centners per hectare.

In the next year, 1968, the Ukraine was the main region suffering from drought. The Ukraine accounted for 60 percent of the winter wheat in the USSR. In that year the failure of the winter wheat crop was a serious setback to the Ukraine. The drought was concentrated in the southern and central regions of the republic. According to Buchinsky (1974) it affected more than half of the territory of the Ukraine, but in spite of the extensive damage it did not have catastrophic consequences for the Soviet Union. However, other sources reported a massive shortfall of 6.3 million tons between the planned and the realized output of grain. The dimension of the failure equaled, for example, the total grain output of Hungary ("Dust storms and grit of Ukrainian politics", 1969). Also, dust storms were reported in several districts of Western Siberia in the spring of 1968. In Omskaya province, the storms affected about 800,000 hectares of sown area, and 128,000 hectares (about 5 percent) of cereal crops were completely destroyed (Sovetskaya Rossia, 1968). Fortunately, wet weather dominated in the RSFSR and good harvests in most regions compensated for the crop failure in the Ukraine (Table 8.8).

The next year, 1969, brought the second decline in grain production, although the calculated drought index shows rather good weather from May to July (Figure 8.2.). The reason was the extremely bad weather that occurred in the winter of 1968-1969. Heavy winter storms, low temperatures, and light snow cover had depleted great parts of the Soviet

Table 8.8. Grain production in the economic regions of the USSR, 1966-1970 (millions of tons)

Regions 1966-1970













RSFSR incl.







Central Black Earth














North Caucasus














W. Siberia





















Source: Sel'skoe khozyastvo SSSR, 1971.

Source: Sel'skoe khozyastvo SSSR, 1971.

winter crop. Western and Soviet sources point to problems not only for the key wheat and grain crops, but also other areas such as fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, and eggs.

Indeed, the winter of 1968-1969 had been a hard one for Soviet grain growers. The center of the catastrophe lay in the North Caucasus, which, along with the Ukraine, accounted for 70 percent of winter wheat. The steppe zone of the North Caucasus is an area where cyclones and anticyclones are encountered, causing frequent "black" dust storms. The most windy area is found in the Armavir district (on the border of Krasnodar and Stavropol krai). The area is known as the "Armavir corridor" (Izvestia, 1974a). During the 12 years between 1957 and 1969, eight severe dust storms and three droughts were registered in the North Caucasus (Sovetskaya Rossia, 1969), but the dust storm of 1969 was the most severe. One Soviet paper reported that the storm began on 1 January in the city of Armavir and lifted so much dust into the air that people had to put plastic bags over their heads when walking in the streets. The storm affected the winter crop in most districts and in some of them crops were destroyed completely (Izvestia, 1974a).

Most of the definitive reports of that time on the natural catastrophe came from the North Caucasus, but general growing conditions in the Ukraine were known to be quite poor. In some regions of the republic "the state of the important winter wheat seeding cannot be fully restored. Wind storms of hurricane velocity have blown off the snow cover from the winter grain seedlings in recent weeks, and followed by recurrent waves of freezing weather, did irreparable damage to the autumn sown grains. Valuable topsoil was blown off the steppes in the affected areas and it appears certain that the winter wheat crop will be decidedly poor" ("Dust storms and the grit of Ukrainian politics", 1969).

It was reported that the severe winter of 1968-1969 was a major factor in sharply reducing livestock numbers. Since agriculture had always been the poor relation in the economy, building for the storage of fodder and for sheltering animals had lagged behind badly. For example, the Soviet magazine Sel'skaya Zhizn (1969) noted that in Volgograd oblast there was not enough proper shelter for cattle and poultry and that only half the herds had suitable cover. The loss of livestock in Kazakhstan, where the climate was particularly severe and shelter was scant, was huge in the winter of 1968-1969 ("Soviet agriculture under fire", 1970).

In addition to the severe winter conditions, as reported, spring arrived between two and three weeks later than usual that year in most grain regions, which meant a shorter growing season and hence lower yields ("Further Soviet imports of Western grain?", 1969). In the late summer there were some problems with harvesting. By mid-August, reports indicated that only about 35 percent of the total grain acreage of the country had been cut. That figure should be compared to 55 percent at this time in 1968, and 66 percent in 1966, a record grain year (Reston, 1969).

The Western press reported that the Soviet leadership was facing serious agricultural setbacks for almost the first time since these leaders had come to power in October 1964. The losses in the winter wheat crop were estimated at 10 to 15 percent by Western specialists (International Herald Tribune, 1969). Western experts predicted that the grain crop of 1969 might be down to a level of 150 to 155 million tons, but Soviet statistics showed more than 160 million tons, slightly less than in 1968 ("Outlook for the 1969 grain harvest", 1969) (Table 8.8.). Some Western sources believed that the figures for the 1969 harvests of grain, potatoes, and beets had been inflated (Christian Science Monitor, 1970). But it could also indicate that some of the measures undertaken by the Soviet Union to combat weather anomalies were working. The storms occurred in winter, and if the weather in spring and summer was good enough and the measures to save damaged crops were adequate, the harvest would have improved. Statistics show that although the Ukraine and Kazakhstan suffered greatly from the winter frosts and winds, the final agricultural statistics look quite good for these two key regions. In many areas where the winter wheat had perished it was replaced by spring wheat and corn. For example in Kazakhstan, in the face of heavy losses through winter-kill, a record 98 million hectares were re-sown in the spring, some 9 million hectares more than in 1967-1968. This included some 2.5 million hectares of "above-plan" spring grain land in the Kazakhstan virgin lands and 1.2 million hectares of the RSFSR virgin lands, all of which had been earmarked for clean fallow (Pravda, 1969a).

At the same time, the North Caucasus, Lower Volga, and Western Siberia show a considerable decline in grain production. There was continued adverse weather in the spring and summer, and any measures to improve the state of the crop could bring little improvement. One report mentions that in the North Caucasus unfavorable winter conditions and spring and summer drought resulted in maximum losses of grain in 1969 (Agroklimatichesky prognoz..., 1978). The same report says that Western Siberia was affected by a drought in 1969. The newspaper Sovetskaya Rossia (1971b) wrote that Saratov province (Low Volga) suffered from severe drought in the summer of 1969.

Despite the modest harvest, a shortage of feed grain was unlikely to be a big problem that year. Our estimation of the grain balance shows that grain requirements were lower than the harvest (see Figure 8.1.). According to Western experts, the situation could, perhaps, have improved due to the state grain reserve. During the last few years, the Soviet grain reserves had been built up from a perilously low amount in mid-1964 to an estimated current level of about 20 million tons. Experts said that if this estimate were correct, the USSR could easily survive one poor harvest. Foreign feed grain was also available ("Further Soviet imports', 1969). Thus the observable recession in Soviet livestock production should be attributed exclusively to unfavorable overwintering conditions in 1969.

The eighth five-year period finished with a very good harvest in 1970. In that year the USSR obtained the largest grain harvest in its history, at 186 million tons (Sovetskaya Rossia, 1971a). Reports indicated that dry weather had suppressed the silage crop growth in a number of central and southern provinces (Pravda, 1970b).

The following period, 1971 to 1975, was far more problematic. The two largest droughts in the history of the USSR occurred in 1972 and 1975. The drought of 1972 was a remarkable synoptic phenomenon. In 1972 an unusually stable and large-scale anticyclone, with its center located in the Moscow region, was observed (Figure 8.3.). The anticyclone spread over thousands of kilometers in area and was 16 kilometers in height. This vast anticyclone effectively blocked cooler and wetter air masses moving from the Atlantic Ocean. Moreover, as the wetter air mass was coming from the West, the anticyclone strengthened. In the northeastern part of the Atlantic Ocean, including the Norway Sea, water temperatures were higher than normal. This warm water was additionally heating air in the anticyclone, making it very stable. The wet air mass was forced to move along the periphery of the anticyclone to the west, over western parts of Belarus and to the south over Moldova and western Ukraine. It brought cool and wet weather there, and along the frontier of the two air masses strong thunderstorms and heavy rains occurred. In some provinces of the Ukraine the amount of precipitation reached a record 100 to 150 millimeters (the two-monthly norm) in just a few hours. Along the eastern periphery of the anticyclone, cold arctic air (moving from the Kara and Barents Seas) penetrated into Western Siberia and Kazakhstan, bringing cooler and wetter weather than usual (Buchinsky, 1974).

The drought of 1972 was of the "central" geographical type. In 1972 the summer was extremely hot in the central and northern regions of European Russia. In June, in Moscow, the average temperature was 3.6 degrees higher than normal and in Leningrad 3 degrees higher. Such an anomaly is observed only about once every 20 years. Rostov province experienced its hottest June for 80 years. The scale of the temperature anomaly reached its maximum in the north of European Russia. In Murmansk province (Northwest region), air temperatures at the beginning of July were twice the usual. The air temperature at the White Sea was higher than in the Crimea. This was the first time such anomalies had occurred in around 90 years of meteorological observations. Water temperatures in the northern river of Severnaya Dvina (Arkhangelsk province) reached 26.1 degrees, in the river Neva (Leningrad province) 22.7 degrees, and in the river Moscow 26.2 degrees. This had never happened before. In the south many rivers were drying up. The upper and middle Don registered its lowest recorded water level (Bu-chinsky, 1974).

Some Soviet sources (Buchinsky, 1974; Izvestia, 1974) called the drought catastrophic and compared it with the famous historic drought of 1921. This opinion was an evident exaggeration. For instance, Soviet experts estimated that the dry weather in 1972 affected 28 percent of

Figure 8.3. Area affected by drought in 1972

Figure 8.3. Area affected by drought in 1972

|_| 0-25% ¡51-75% |_ Non agricultural regions

[TJ| 26-50% | 76-100% Moscow the sown area of spring wheat and seriously damaged 7 percent of the crop in the USSR. These figures are at the level of 1967 and significantly lower than in 1963 or 1965. The decline in grain production in the USSR was only 13 percent in 1972, although the geographical scale of the drought was colossal as compared with that of 1967. Agrokli-maticheskayaprognoz... (1978) pointed out two possible reasons for the phenomenon. In 1972 the drought, fortunately, came late in the second half of June and a peak of hot weather was observed in July and August. The second reason was that in the virgin lands of Western Siberia and Kazakhstan, the weather was very favorable, which allowed a good harvest to be obtained there. In Western Siberia the grain harvest was the highest in the decade (Table 8.9.).

One further reason why the harvest of 1972 was saved can be suggested. The Soviet press reported that the good harvest in Kazakhstan was also achieved due to the emergency measures undertaken there. The Soviet authorities campaigned in the "virgin lands" for the emergency sowing of spring wheat in view of the uncertain level of winter wheat output in 1972, as was also the case in 1969. The winter crop was replaced largely by corn and pulses ("Emergency expansion in the 'new lands", 1972). According to Pravda (1972), oblasts in northern Kazakhstan planned to sow about half a million additional hectares of spring

Table 8.9. Grain production in the economic regions of the Russian Federation, 1970-1975 (millions of tons)

Regions 1971-1975




















Central Black Earth














North Caucasus














W. Siberia







Source: Narodnoe khozyastvo RSFSR, various years.

Source: Narodnoe khozyastvo RSFSR, various years.

wheat. Presumably the area of spring wheat was also expanded in the southern provinces. One press report wrote about successes in combating a drought in 1972 in the Northern Caucasus.

One Western source also reported a massive mobilization of manpower, equipment, and transportation to help bring in the harvest throughout the country. According to this source, in contrast with previous years the entire staff of even heavy industrial enterprises were drafted to the "agricultural front" that year. Moreover, it was suggested that the massive mobilization of workers and technology was one of the factors contributing to the lowest peacetime growth in Soviet industrial output in 1972 ("A time of troubles for the Soviet economy", 1972).

Despite the relatively modest crop failure (as compared with the scale of drought), it resulted in serious problems, especially for the livestock sector. Soviet official statistics show a decline in the consumption of feed grain that year for the first time since 1965. The reason was that the feed grain demand had increased considerably by the beginning of the 1970s. There were also declines of 3 percent in pasturage and of 7 percent in succulent fodder in the RSFSR (see Table 8.6.). The fodder shortage was responsible for the drop in the pig inventory by 8 percent in Russia in 1972, and in the sheep inventory by 2 percent (Sel'skoe khozyastvo v Rossii, 2000). The same figures were reported for the USSR.

Although in 1972 the grain harvest was 13 percent lower than in 1971, it resulted in a grain deficit reaching as much as 30 million tons. Indeed, it was reported that the USSR had to purchase 22.6 million tons of grain abroad. One Western report claimed that the agricultural shortfalls of 1971 and 1972 had not only put out of reach the ninth five-year plan target for an increase in agricultural production of 21.7 percent, but had also put at risk the 1975 goals for industrial growth and a growth in national income ("A time of troubles for the Soviet economy', 1972).

The year 1973 produced the highest grain harvest (222.5 million tons) in the USSR. The next year, although official statistics show a relatively good harvest, grain production was 5 to 10 million tons short of domestic requirements and export commitments to East European Socialist countries (Soviet economy: 1974 results, 1975). Unfortunately, only a few details are known about weather conditions in the spring and summer of 1974. The calculated drought index shows that weather conditions from May to July should have been favorable in the Russian Federation (Figure 8.2.). However, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that many districts of the virgin lands in Kazakhstan were affected by bad weather conditions (1974). It seems that the virgin lands in the south of Western Siberia were also affected by poor weather. Official statistics show a 30 percent decline in the Western Siberian grain harvest in 1974 (Table 8.9.). On 18 May, Izvestia (1974b) reported dust storms in Krasnodar province in the North Caucasus and also in some southern districts of the Ukraine in the spring of 1974.

More serious problems started in the autumn of 1974. In some parts of European Russia there was unusually hot and very dry weather continuing into the autumn. Only 50 to 70 percent of the normal precipitation fell during the autumn and winter of 1974-1975. The problem was that, for the steppe zone, there is a strong correlation (0.76 to 0.8) between the amount of precipitation in the autumn and soil moisture reserves in spring. This water reserve plays a very important role for winter cereals. The worst situation was when a dry autumn and winter were followed by a spring drought. In this case both winter and spring crops would be threatened.

This is what happened in 1975. Drought occurred in regions where moisture deficits in the soil had been caused by the dry autumn and winter. In the southeast of European Russia and western districts of Kazakhstan, drought had already set in by the beginning of April. In some areas air temperatures were 25 to 30 degrees in the first weeks of April, giving rise to strong hot winds. There was a record number of days affected by sukhovei. For example, in the Low and Middle Volga the number was twice that of 1921. In many regions the temperature anomaly in April to June was the highest in a hundred years, while

0 0

Post a comment