Europe’s Crop in That Year Will be Light, says Savant
SIR W. H. BEVERIDGEApril11922
High Wheat Prices in 1923?
REVIEW of REVIEWS
Europe’s Crop in That Year Will be Light, says Savant
SIR W. H. BEVERIDGE
THAT there are cycles of high and low barometric pressure, extending over a certain period of years with as great a regularity almost as the seasons, and that these cycles have a direct effect on world wheat crops and the prices thereof, is the interesting contention of Sir W. H. Beveridge, who has been discussing the phenomenon in a series of articles in the Economic Journal.
There is hardly any enterprise more deluding or more desperate than the search for weather cycles, and, as the author puts it, “the gold which investigators gather turns incessantly to ashes.” Nevertheless, his study of the subject has brought about a conviction that the 15.3 year cycle seems to have the ring of true metal. As an influence on wheat prices, he contends that it issues, “brilliant and unmistakable from the crucible of mathematical analysis.” It had already been found independently in other figures, and, according to Mr. Beveridge, it has maintained itself for 350 years, a fact which he claims to have substantiated by records available during that period of grain production and of contemporaneous barometric pressure, due apparently in some instances to sun-spots or their absence. His investigations, as a matter of fact, were carried to as early a period as the year 1500, A.D.
Recognition of a periodicity so marked and so long-lived must affect our whole attitude to the general problem of weather cycles, but it leaves investigators faced by many and difficult problems. Mr. Beveridge presents his conclusions after giving considerable attention to theories advanced previously as to shorter cycles.
In brief, he says, first, that the yields of harvests in Western and Central Europe, from the middle of the sixteenth century to the opening of the twentieth century, have been subject to a periodic influence or combination of such influences tending to produce bad harvests at intervals of about 15.3 years, the first epoch falling in 1556. This proposition, he declares, is about as certain as harmonic analysis can make it. Secondly, he points out, this period of 15.3 years, though corresponding to certain physical facts, is not a permanent one, but arises from a temporary combination of two or more shorter cycles. He adds: “This proposition, though not
certain, is in both of its branches highly probable.”
In the third place, the shorter cycles, whose combination gives rise to the Beveridge theory of 15.3 year periods from the year 1556 onwards, and which are themselves more permanent than their combination, are periods of 4.374 years, 5.11 years, 2.74 years and 3.71 years. “This proposition,” he admits, “is a speculation as to whose plausibility and truth different readers will take different views.” On the last issue, however, he says the world may look for enlightenment in the near future. The next maximum phase of the 15.3 year cycle is due in the year 1923, which is 123 years from the memorable dearth of 1800. The author declares that if that cycle is operative and punctual the harvests of Western Europe reaped in
1923 will be generally deficient. He cautiously adds that if the said harvests are up to or above the normal, or if the worst harvest comes just too soon, in 1922, or just too late, in 1924, this will not disprove the reality of the 15.3 year period itself. Such departures from strict accuracy have happened before. But it will prove, to Mr. Beveridge’s way of thinking, that the explanation of that period as being made up of shorter cycles of definite length are faulty. A maximum phase in barometric pressure should return between February and September of 1923, a remarkably close conjunction. He proceeds:—
“If the harvest of that year is deficient, this will tend to confirm my third proposition (the theory of the shorter cycles), and in the excessively improbable event of my arithmetical analysis being complete and accurate in every particular, 1923 is destined to repeat something like the experiences of 1316, the year of the worst and most general harvest failure known in European history. But it would be rash to count on this without further inquiry.
Meanwhile, the possibly critical year of 1923 approaches. I give the material as I have it at present, in the hope that it may induce and repay study by others.”
Incidentally, Mr. Beveridge in the course of his articles, emphasizes the fact that there are influences of so varied a nature affecting the growth of crops that it is difficult to gain a thorough grasp of their composite influence in given cycles of good and bad crop years. Bad crops and high prices may result from excessive rainfall or the lack of rainfall, or they may depend on the combination of two or three independent meteorological factors of different types, such as heavy rainfall, a fall in the solar constant, and some special magnetic condition. A true periodicity depending on the conjunction of such disparate cases may not appear in any meteorological records but may appear in grain prices. Physical factors, electrical or other, in the sun or earth may affect the growth of grain directly without causing an appreciable change in what is ordinarily known as weather.
“In this and other ways, apparent discrepancies between different classes of records may prove to be no discrepancies at all,” he insists. “For these reasons arithmetical analysis such as has been attempted here may prove valuable after mathematical analysis has been exhausted.”
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