Life cycle analysis reveals higher agroecological benefits of organic and low-input apple production


Conventional agricultural systems depend on high inputs of fertilizers and toxic pesticides that are a threat for human health and the environment. Such issues are rapidly changing agriculture in Europe. As a consequence sustainable production systems are currently developed as safer alternatives, for instance organic and low-input systems use of mechanical and biological methods versus toxic substances. However, there is a lack of knowledge on the overall impact of these alternative systems on toxicity, energy use, and global warming, notably for perennial crops such as apple orchards, which require the control of many pests. Here we present the first analysis of the environmental impacts of nine apple orchard systems using life cycle analysis. We used data from a survey of apple orchard systems located in Southern France, covering 2006–2009. Conventional, low-input, and organic orchards were planted with three apple cultivars differing in their disease susceptibility, hence designing nine apple systems, with the Golden Delicious conventional system being considered as the reference. Our results show that low-input systems planted with low disease susceptibility Melrose cultivar decreased environmental impacts by 6–99 %. Organic systems had one of the highest impacts per mass unit due to low yields, but showed low impacts per area unit planted with low-susceptibility cultivars generally. Potential toxicity was decreased by 2–40 % for human, 71–82 % for aquatic life, and 97–99 % for terrestrial life using mechanical control versus toxic pesticides to control weeds and diseases.

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We thank the staff members of Gotheron experimental unit in charge of the management of the orchards and especially C. Gros, K. Morel, K. Traverse, J. Guinaudeau, and F. Merlin for their contribution to the management of pests and diseases in the orchards, and T. Girad, L. Galet, O. Guibert, D. Riotord, and P. Ascensio. We thank A. Hélias and C. Bussi for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. Constructive comments from two anonymous reviewers have improved the clarity of the paper and are also acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Aude Alaphilippe.

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Alaphilippe, A., Simon, S., Brun, L. et al. Life cycle analysis reveals higher agroecological benefits of organic and low-input apple production. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 33, 581–592 (2013).

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  • Apple orchard
  • Conventional
  • Organic
  • Low input
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Environmental performance