Weather variations and agricultural production

Climate was the most important factor in the fluctuations in gross grain production in the Russian Empire in the pre-revolutionary period. There is some discussion as to the degree to which the growth in grain production in the pre-war decade should be attributed to the Stolypin reform, which began in 1906, or to the favorable weather conditions.

Gatrell (1986) agrees that grain production certainly rose substantially in the last 20 years before World War I (Figure. 3.1.). However, he does not share the position adopted by many historians, who claim that it was the Stolypin reforms that led to the dramatic increase in agricultural, and particularly grain, production between 1909 and 1913. He points out that this assumption appears doubtful in view of the very large role played by the weather. For example, the very high level of grain production in the single year 1913 was certainly due to exceptionally good weather.

Wheatcroft (1994) constructed a "drought index" from data for 1883 to 1915, which assesses how far annual fluctuations in the degree of drought in late spring and early summer might be expected to affect grain yields. To reconstruct the potential yield, the author extrapolates the actual 1883 to 1915 trend of yield linearly to 1940. Then, for six geographically remote locations, for 1883 to 1915, the yield is correlated with mean temperature and rainfall during certain critical months. The "weather index" thus derived is further used to predict agro-meteoro-

Figure 3.2. Gross grain production and scale of drought in European Russia, 1900-1915

Figure 3.2. Gross grain production and scale of drought in European Russia, 1900-1915

Source: Statisticheskie ezhegodniki Rossii, various years.

logical deviations (i.e., deviations due to good or bad weather) from yield trend. Where the actual deviation is significantly larger than the predicted deviation (from the weather-related yield trend), the strong influence of political factors is suggested. According to the author, the weather was largely responsible for the above-average yields over the whole five-year period between 1909 and 1913, not just in the bumper harvest year 1913. It could be concluded from these calculations that relatively low harvests between 1904 and 1908 were 60 percent determined by bad weather, and the very good ones between 1909 and 1913 were 80 percent due to favorable weather.

While the role of agricultural reforms and weather in the progress of grain production before the war is still the subject of discussion,3 it is certain that all crop failures in this period were caused by dry weather. Figure 3.2. shows a good correlation between grain production and the scale of droughts in European Russia in the pre-war period. The scale of drought is calculated as a proportion of the crop area not affected by drought, on the basis of a drought index or the Hydrothermal Coefficient (HTC) proposed by Seljaninov (1966)4. The index was calculated only for the main agricultural regions of Russia, located mostly in steppe and forest steppe zones. This means that even in a good year a certain proportion of the zone (about 20 percent) is characterized as being in a dry condition (e.g. along the Caspian Sea coast). A large-scale drought occurred when dry weather covered more than 40 percent of the area of the agricultural zone (conversely, less than 60 percent of the area is not affected by drought, as shown in Figure 3.2).

On the whole, this period looks very favorable in terms of weather. Wet weather (with 80 percent of crop area not affected by drought) prevailed during the whole period. Climatic conditions show some improvement in the course of the period, and the grain harvest also shows a slight improvement. In only 3 out of 20 years (the last crop failure in the nineteenth century occurred in 1897) did a large-scale drought occur in the agricultural zone of European Russia. These droughts were evidently responsible for the three largest crop failures in the Russian Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Figure 3.2.).

This period is relatively well covered in terms of official statistics on agricultural production. The cereal yields in major regions of the Russian Empire in years of drought (including the largest drought of 1891) are shown in Table 3.3. The statistics show that grain yields in some key regions of Russia fell considerably in the three years 1901, 1906, and 1911, as compared with the average harvest figures for 1900 to 1911. Additionally, data for the worst drought in Russian history, which occurred in 1891, are included in the table.

Weather data for the period are scarce. Fortunately, in 1933 the Central Administration of the Unified Hydrometeorological Service of the USSR (TsUEG) published a special report with a synoptic analysis of major (or, as the report called them, "catastrophic") droughts in the last 40 years in Russia. The list of catastrophic droughts includes those that occurred in 1891, 1897, 1901, 1906, and 1911 (Opyt predvaritelnogo analiza, 1933). We have also constructed maps for 1901, 1906, and 1911, to show the possible proportion of regions (oblasts) affected by drought in May to July. The map is based on the drought index proposed by Seljaninov (1966). All these maps have been drawn up according to the modern administrative division of the Russian Federation.

In 1901, gross grain production in European Russia (including the Ukraine) fell by only 10 percent from average levels (as opposed to a fall of 35 percent in 1891). However, the spring crop production was 14 percent lower than average. An official statistical yearbook (Statisticheskie

Table 3.3. Cereal yields in the major regions of the Russian Empire in drought years (centners per ha)

Region

1891

1901

1906

1911

1900-1911

European Russia

4.3

6.0

5.7

6.3

6.7

Central

5.9

6.7

5.3

8.2

7.0

Central Black Earth

3.8

6.3

6.4

8.1

7.3

Middle Volga

3.1

4.7

3.6

4.6

6.6

Low Volga

1.5

2.7

2.8

0.5

4.7

Urals

4.2

4.5

2.9

1.9

6.4

Northern Caucasus

No data

7.6

8.0

6.6

6.7

Ukraine

10.2

10.9

10.9

9.6

8.6

Western Siberia

No data

3.6

8.3

5.4

7.0

Source: Statisticheskie ezhegodniki Rossii, various years.

ezhegodniki Rossii: 1901, 1902) described this year as "a very poor year" for Russia. The report stressed that drought was the major cause of the crop failure. The report named the most drought-affected regions as the Low Volga (with a 40 percent fall), the Middle Volga (a 30 percent fall) and the Urals (36 percent fall). The Siberian provinces saw an unprecedented 52 percent decline in grain production. Fortunately, the Northern Caucasus and the Ukraine produced bigger than usual harvests.

The report by the TsUEG (Opytpredvaritelnogo analiza, 1933) said that adverse weather conditions had already occurred in the autumn of 1900. In many regions no rain fell in August and September, causing peasants to sow the winter cereal too late (in mid-October). As a result, in the Middle and Low Volga regions fields sown with winter cereals faced the winter without any young growth. Thus, the report said, the crop failure in the Volga basin was to be attributed partly to the dry autumn of 1900, as in some districts less than 10 millimeters of rain fell. In addition, the southern part of European Russia faced an unusually warm December and by 1 January 1901 there was still no snow cover.

In 1901, there was a severe drought in June and many districts of the Middle and Low Volga and the eastern part of the Central Black Earth region were affected (in Voronezhskaya and Tambovskaya provinces the harvest fell below average levels by 15 and 27 percent respectively). In these regions only 5 millimeters of rain fell during the whole month. The Astrakhan, Volgograd, and Ul'yanovsk (then Sim-birskaya) oblasts did not see any rain this month at all, which resulted in

Figure 3.3. Area affected by drought in 1901

Figure 3.3. Area affected by drought in 1901

O 0-25% :. 51-75% , Non agricultural regions filU 26-50% ■ 76-100% l_i Moscow

O 0-25% :. 51-75% , Non agricultural regions filU 26-50% ■ 76-100% l_i Moscow a reduction in the harvest of 40 to 50 percent. The map based on the calculation of the drought index reflects this situation for the early summer of 1901 (Figure 3.3.). It was reported that, besides the drought, strong dry winds (sukhovei) affected cereal crops in many districts of the Volga basin, where cereal yields were less than 0.2 tons per hectare, which was about the amount of seed grain sown by the peasants (Figure 3.4.). There, soils were reported to be so dry that the surface was cracked in many places. Most small rivers and shallow lakes in the region dried up. Flooded meadows in river valleys gave very poor harvests of hay. From early July the anticyclone shifted to the east in Siberia, where dry and hot weather inevitably affected crops very badly. For example, the badly affected province of Tomskaya experienced a fall in grain production of 58 percent.

At that time, most territories of European Russia enjoyed wet weather, which partly improved the harvest in central Russia. In August the dry weather returned to European Russia and numerous forest fires were reported in the northern regions. This new drought helps to explain the fact that the area of low yield considerably exceeded the calculated area of the drought in May to July of 1901. The arctic air mass spreading from the northeast to the southwest played a major role in the development of a large-scale drought in June and August of 1901.

Figure 3.4. Cereal yield in 1901

Figure 3.4. Cereal yield in 1901

The report (Opytpredvaritelnogo analiza, 1933) also stresses that the unusual dry and hot weather of 1901 was observed not only in Russia but also in many other parts of the moderate climatic zone of the northern hemisphere. Information about abnormal heat in June and July is also to be found in Western Europe, including the United Kingdom. Very hot weather was also experienced in the United States. In some countries high temperatures had catastrophic consequences. In Paris, for example, there were numerous cases of heatstroke. On 1 July, in New York, 183 cases of heatstroke were registered and 87 people died. On 3 July, 200 deaths were registered in the city. It was reported that in late July a new heat wave killed crops in the western United States, resulting in losses of 300 million dollars.

The next drought, in 1906, was the most severe in the pre-war decades of the Russian Empire. The gross cereal production of European Russia dropped by 15 percent from the average (as opposed to 7 percent in 1901, although the total grain production in 1906 was higher, evidently due to there being a larger crop area under cultivation). There were poor harvests in many consumption and production regions of the Russian Empire, including the Central Industrial and Central Black Earth regions, the Urals, and the Middle Volga and Low Volga regions. The latter three regions were most affected, with harvests falling by 40 to 50 percent compared with the average (Table. 3.3.).

Figure 3.5. Area affected by drought in 1906

Figure 3.5. Area affected by drought in 1906

According to the TsUEG report (Opyt predvaritelnogo analiza, 1933), the drought of 1906 began as early as the beginning of April, and lasted for 20 days. It covered a large area, including the Northern, Northwestern, Central, and Central Black Earth regions, some districts of the Volga-Vyatka, western districts of the Urals, the Volga, and the Northern Caucasus. The report also notes that the autumn of 1905 was, fortunately, wet. The winter was snowy everywhere in European Russia, and the month of March 1906 was also very favorable climatically. Thus extremely large amounts of moisture in the soil helped winter crops to survive in the regions which suffered during the dry April. However, the report said that in some places in the Central Black Earth region, and the Middle and Low Volga winter crops were damaged by the strong dry winds in the spring.

In May, the Siberian anticyclone affected the eastern part of European Russia, bringing dry and hot weather. However, the total area affected by this drought was smaller than in April. The drought covered mainly the Volga basin, the Don basin (Rostov province), the Urals, and Volga-Vyatka (Figure 3.5.). In these regions the drought lasted for two weeks in May. It destroyed the winter crop completely and damaged the

Figure 3.6. Cereal yield in 1906

Figure 3.6. Cereal yield in 1906

« 0-0.2 tonnes per ha 0.41-0.6 tonnes per ha Non agricultural regions

0.21-0.4 tonnes per ha _ J 0.61-1.0 tonnes per ha [] Moscow

« 0-0.2 tonnes per ha 0.41-0.6 tonnes per ha Non agricultural regions

0.21-0.4 tonnes per ha _ J 0.61-1.0 tonnes per ha [] Moscow spring crop in many areas. In June, dry weather only occurred in the Low and Middle Volga and the Don basin. In the Volga region peasants had to use winter and spring cereals to feed their livestock because of the low crop quality. In contrast, in western and central parts of European Russia, after 20 June the weather became extremely rainy with numerous storms. It was reported that "tens of thousands" of hectares of crops and orchards were damaged by hail, strong winds, and flooding. The Russian papers published a lot of information about catastrophic rainfall and hail in July. This unstable rainy and stormy weather was responsible for the relatively low harvests in central and northern regions of European Russia, rather than the early spring drought mentioned above (Figure 3.6.).

The drought of 1911 was not as intense as that of 1906. The cereal harvest in European Russia was only 6 percent lower than average. The drought of 1911 mostly affected a compact but extensive area spreading from the Volga basin and the southern Urals to the southern part of Western Siberia. In this area crop failure was catastrophic (Table.3.3.). Unlike the situation in 1901 and 1906, this drought appears to have been caused by a single climatic factor determining the geographical

Figure 3.7. Area affected by drought in 1911

Figure 3.7. Area affected by drought in 1911

51-75% Non agricultural regions

51-75% Non agricultural regions

76-100% Moscow extent of the poor harvest. This can be seen from the remarkable similarity between Figures 3.7. and 3.8.

The TsUEG report describes the situation in 1911 in the following way. The spring was characterized by a very active cyclone in the north of European Russia and by the presence of a very stable anticyclone in the middle and southern regions of Western Siberia and in the basins of some Siberian rivers (the Tobol, Ishim, and Irtysh). The anticyclone also affected the Urals (the basins of the rivers Ural, Belaya, and Ufa) and the Volga region, which resulted in a precipitation deficit. This disposition of regional synoptic processes remained during May and June. To the east of the Volga river a lack of rain was observed until late July. Thus between April and late July a vast territory covering the southern part of Western Siberia, the Urals, and the Low and Middle Volga suffered from drought due to the Asiatic anticyclone. As a result, by the beginning of July cereals and grass had been damaged by heat over the majority of the territory. Moreover, in the southwestern part of Siberia the drought affected spring cereals and followed the severe winter of 1910-1911, which had damaged winter crops. In Tobolskaya province the grain harvest reached only 20 percent of the average level (Statisticheskii ezhegodnik Rossii: 1914, 1912). Other provinces in Siberia suffered less.

Figure 3.8. Cereal yield in 1911

Figure 3.8. Cereal yield in 1911

The report also says that many areas of the Ukraine and the Central Black Earth region had excellent harvests, although they suffered somewhat from rainy weather in the autumn.

0 0

Post a comment