, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 68-76

Modelling Representative Life Cycle Inventories for Swiss Arable Crops (9 pp)

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Abstract

Goal, Scope and Background

Life cycle inventories (LCIs) of agricultural products, infrastructure, inputs and processes are required to optimise food supply chains. In the past, the use of LCA was hindered by the limited availability of databases with LCIs for such agricultural inputs, processes and products in combination with LCIs of other major economic sectors. The ecoinvent database covers this need for the Swiss, and to an extent, the European context. A suitable approach had to be outlined for defining representative datasets for products from arable crops, since there was no comprehensive survey of agricultural production.

Methods

No single data source was available for defining representative datasets for arable crops. It was therefore decided to define model crops on the basis of a variety of sources in collaboration with experts on the crops in question. The datasets were validated by experts and by comparison with literature. Field emissions were calculated using a set of models taking into account situation-specific parameters. Data defined by this procedure are more generally usable, but their definition is also more laborious.

Results and Discussion

Selected results (inventories and impact assessment) are presented for infrastructure (buildings, machinery), work processes, fertilisers, pesticides, seed and arable crop products. Infrastructure has a higher share of environmental impacts than in typical industrial processes, often due to low utilisation rates. Energy use is dominated by mechanisation, the use of mineral fertilisers (particularly nitrogen) and grain drying. Eutrophication is caused mainly by nitrogen compounds. In general, field emissions are of decisive importance for many environmental impacts.

Conclusion and Outlook

The ecoinvent database provides representative agricultural data for the Swiss, and to an extent, the European context. It also provides the meta-information necessary for deciding whether a dataset is suitable for the purpose of a particular LCA study. To further improve the representativeness of the datasets, an environmental farm monitoring network is required.