LCA applied to perennial cropping systems: a review focused on the farm stage

  • Cecile BessouEmail author
  • Claudine Basset-Mens
  • Thierry Tran
  • Anthony Benoist



Perennial crops globally provide a lot of fruit and other food products. They may also provide feedstock for bioenergy and have been, notably to this end, the subject of several LCA-based studies mostly focusing on energy and GHG balances. The purpose of this review was to investigate the relevance of LCAs on perennial crops, especially focusing on how the perennial crop specificities were accounted for in the farm stage modelling.


More than 100 papers were reviewed covering 14 products from perennial crops: apple, banana (managed over several years), orange and other citrus fruits, cocoa, coconut, coffee, grape fruit, Jatropha oil, kiwi fruit, palm oil, olive, pear and sugarcane. These papers were classified into three categories according to the comprehensiveness of the LCA study and depending on whether they were peer-reviewed or not. An in-depth analysis of the goal and scope, data origin for farming systems, modelling approach for the perennial cropping systems and methods and data for field emissions helped reveal the more critical issues and design some key recommendations to account better for perennial cropping systems in LCA.

Results and discussion

In the vast majority of the reviewed papers, very little attention was paid on integrating the perennial cropping cycle in the LCA. It is especially true for bioenergy LCA-based studies that often mostly focused on the industrial transformation without detailing the agricultural raw material production, although it might contribute to a large extent to the studied impacts. Some key parameters, such as the length of the crop cycle, the immature and unproductive phase or the biannual yield alternance, were mostly not accounted for. Moreover, the lack of conceptual modelling of the perennial cycle was not balanced by any attempt to represent the temporal variability of the system with a comprehensive inventory of crop managements and field emissions over several years.


According to the reviewed papers and complementary references, we identified the gaps in current LCA of perennial cropping systems and proposed a road map for scientific researches to help fill-in the knowledge-based gaps. We also made some methodological recommendations in order to account better for the perennial cycle within LCA considering the aim of the study and data availability.


Agricultural inventory Agroforestry Critical review Life cycle assessment Methodological development Perennial crops Recommendations Scientific challenges 



The authors, members of the ELSA group (Environmental Life–cycle and Sustainability Assessment www.elsa–, thank the French Region Languedoc–Roussillon for its support to ELSA. The authors are very grateful to Dr. Eric Malézieux for his valuable comments. We finally want to warmly thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments which improved the quality of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cecile Bessou
    • 1
    Email author
  • Claudine Basset-Mens
    • 2
  • Thierry Tran
    • 3
  • Anthony Benoist
    • 4
  1. 1.CIRAD, UPR Perennial CropsMontpellier Cedex 5France
  2. 2.CIRAD, UPR HortsysMontpellier Cedex 5France
  3. 3.CIRAD, UMR Qualisud, CSTRUKasetsart University Agro-industry build. 3BangkokThailand
  4. 4.CIRAD, UPR Biomass EnergyMontpellier Cedex 5France

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