It must be admitted that there are unusual difficulties in estimating such a crop as that of wheat. It is not purely a commercial crop, where the whole product comes into the market to be recorded commercially, as is the case with cotton. A part is consumed on the farm, another part is retained for seed, and the proportion of crop brought to market varies with the price offered and the necessities of the farmer. There are many opportunities of error in arriving at the resultant of these patent conditions, without undertaking to measure other influences that tend to check or promote deliveries and free movement of wheat from the producer to the market, not to speak of the international competition that overshadows the whole subject. It is not a little absurd to dogmatize in the face of so many uncertainties, and all the more absurd when a limited space of time is taken for study. In commerce, the shortest period on which to determine the trend of movement should not be less than twenty years, and as many more years as the returns will permit strengthen the argument. In agriculture the same rule holds. There is an undoubted periodicity in the ebb and flow of industry and agriculture, of commercial and financial movement—waves of prosperity and depression. It would be as misleading to accept a year of depression for a standard as to apply a year of prosperity. In the wish to throw some statistical light upon the position of wheat, I have prepared some notes upon the conditions surrounding the production of this important cereal in different parts of the world, and the conditions controlling its commercial movement in some of the leading markets. As the trade returns of import are more accurate than those of export, I begin with a consideration of the great free wheat market of Great Britain.
In 1849 the duty upon imported wheat was fixed at the nominal rate of one shilling per quarter. In ten years the trade had adapted itself to this rate, and no disturbing influence was exerted by any threatened change of rate, so that 1860 may be taken as a fair starting point for this examination. In that year the United Kingdom imported 25,484,151 quarters (one quarter equals eight bushels) of foreign wheat. Of this quantity the larger part—sixty-seven per cent—was obtainedEuropean countries, of which the more important were Germany and Russia. Outside of Europe the leading sources of supply were the United States, Egypt, and British North America. The general relation of those countries is shown as follows:
|British North America||794,829||"|