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Siberian Wheat Belt 627

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SIBERIAN WHEAT BELT 627. Location and bounds.—In Canada, a wide wheat belt lies to the south of the cen tral part of the great northern forest. In Siberia, also, a wheat belt lies south of the Taiga. On its southern edge, where there is less rain, and greater heat and evaporation than farther north, it is too dry for grain to grow, and the farming region gives way to pasture lands, as in our own Great Plains (Sec. 105).

How wide is the Siberian Wheat Region? We do not know just where its boundaries will finally be, because men do not yet know how far south on the dry steppes men can learn to grow wheat, nor how far north in the land of forest and frost men can learn to grow wheat. (Compare with Canada, Sec. 91.) To the eastward, the region ends at the highlands near Lake Baikal. On the west, the unbroken plain extends into the plain of east Europe.

About the time that the Americans were building the later transcontinental railroads across the Rocky Mountains, the Russians were building the trans Siberian line through the flat lands of the wheat belt, and across the mountains beyond Lake Baikal and on to the Pacific at Vladivostok. Then came the Russian peasant farmer to settle this fine wheat country, just as the American and Canadian set tlers were doing in Dakota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The two regions, each in the middle of its continent, are, indeed, very much alike in soil, in climate, in the appearance of the country, and in the kinds of crops that men grow there.

628. Surface and soil.—Flat, flat, very flat is the land, and very black and very rich is the soil of central Siberia. Day after day the train will carry you through flat, black land, past villages of one-story houses built of wood brought by rail from the Taiga. There, also, are the sod houses which serve as homes for the newest settlers. (Fig. 96, Secs. 93, 95.) 629. Climate and winter is cold, with months of freezing days without a single thaw. Not much snow falls, but there is enough for sleighs and sleds. With horses galloping across the bitterly cold plains, farmers can haul their grain and frozen meat many miles to market. The summer, like that of the Northern Wheat Belt of the United States and Canada, has light rain which just suits spring wheat. This land can also pro duce rye, barley, oats, potatoes, beets, and hay.

At the northern edge there is less evaporation, so that the scanty rain makes moisture enough to support the forest. In some places the settler must clear away the forest to get a field, as settlers do in the northern part of the wheat region of western Canada.

What shall the new settlers in this region sell? It is a very long way to the markets in western Europe. The freight rate must be high, so the settler must sell small valuable things like butter, eggs, and wheat; not bulky cheap things like potatoes and oats. The people of western Siberia sent for Danes to come and teach them how to make good butter, which, before the World War, used to go by carloads to the Baltic ports for ship ment to England. The Danes also showed the farmers how to work together and run cooperative dairies. Siberian coopera tive societies were among the best in the world at the beginning of the World War.

630. is one of the world's great grain reserves, but it would be more useful if its several navigable rivers (Fig. 529) gave outlet to the Indian Ocean rather than to the Arctic. But the Arctic is not without hope. In 1919, a Swedish ship made the two-thousand-mile journey from Gottenborg, through the Kara Sea, to the mouth of the Ob River, and traded her cargo of manufactures for a cargo of farm produce that had been brought down in boats, through the forest district, from the Siberian Wheat Belt. Some people think that ships may visit this place regularly between July and October. If so, it will be a great boon to Siberia and to the entire commercial world.

From what we know of the reason for the growth of cities (Sec. 321), we can tell that this region will not have a big city like Chicago. The Trans-Siberian Railroad and others not yet built will help the boat traffic of the rivers to build up a number of small cities.

We do not know how valuable this grain country may finally be to the world. We do not know how big it is; but certainly it is longer than our Great Plains between Mexico and Canada; and certainly it is wider. It is a place of enormous possibility, once it is all used, and, as in Canada (Sec. 91), new crops and new methods, especially the use of the tractor, may cause its extension both north ward and southward.