Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Why is protein content in wheat important?  At what stage in the food chain is a low wheat protein content problematic.  That is, when do people notice?

Also, the pre-nitrogen fertilizer techniques you describe, like fallow fields and whatnot - are those from American farming, or European?  Americans had a pretty awful reputation as soil killers in the nineteenth centuries, and hardly bothered with any techniques to manage the soil or improve yield.  There are some interesting passages from the 1860 census on this matter, basically to the point that it wasn't really worth it for most American farmers to bother with any sort of soil management or preservation because there were too few farmers, too few capital, and too much difficult bringing their products to market for it to be worth the extra investment.

There would be a HUGE difference between reverting to old-style American practice, and to intensive cultivation practices found in 19th century Britain, or for that matter China or Japan.

I'm not saying that intensive organic cultivation is the answer or anything.  I have no clue.  It's just something to address, since you're bringing up pre-nitrogen practice as a major point.

Speaking of that, a graph plotting the introduction of nitrogen fertilizers, guano and whatnot, with crop yield growth and population growth might be interesting.  Probably a ton of work to put together, but interesting nonetheless.

On the subject of old-school fertilizers, I know in Edo-period (1600-1868) Japan they used fish-meal, ground up cold-water fish, as a fertilizer for most commercial agriculture.  The demand for fertilizer was one of the factors that drove the development of the Hokkaido fisheries.

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 24th, 2008 at 07:07:59 AM EST
... where large numbers rely on complementary vegetable proteins for 90% or more of their protein intake. Cut the protein content of wheat, you cut the usable protein content of the complement of vegetable foods.

Rice, however, would have a larger total population relying on it.

The answer in most high income nations is, of course, don't grow so many staple grains, and grow more fruits and vegetable ... we overproduce grain massively in the US, but its not a problem restricted to the US ... both the US and the EU engage in food dumping that destroys local farm incomes in large numbers of low income nations.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Dec 24th, 2008 at 01:12:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
about the types and amounts of N-based fertilizers in Japan?

paul spencer
by paul spencer (paulgspencer@gmail.com) on Wed Dec 24th, 2008 at 04:32:06 PM EST
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Today?  I believe it's the highest per ton of agricultural product in the world.  A lot of it is sprayed by hand, or by little mini-carts, given the small scale intensive nature of Japanese ag, but they still use a lot.  Lots of pesticides, too.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 24th, 2008 at 08:37:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 I have very little knowledge of Japanese agriculture but I do recall reading that there was some sort of "too much is not enough" when it came to fertilization.

 It is all so big and about to be so out of control due to peak oil ... most days it's enough just trying to take in the situation in the areas I know well.

by SacredCowTipper (sct@strandedwind.org) on Wed Dec 24th, 2008 at 11:19:33 PM EST
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