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Sustainability assessment of greenhouse vegetable farming practices from environmental, economic, and socio-institutional perspectives in China

Yang, Lanqin, Huang, Biao, Mao, Mingcui, Yao, Lipeng, Niedermann, Silvana, Hu, Wenyou, Chen, Yong
Environmental science and pollution research international 2016 v.23 no.17 pp. 17287-17297
acid soils, agricultural education, cadmium, conventional farming, copper, data collection, economic factors, environmental assessment, eutrophication, extension education, farmers, farms, greenhouses, households, income, irrigation water, issues and policy, lead, leaves, models, nitrogen, nutrient management, phosphorus, planting, pollution, production technology, risk, surveys, sustainable development, vegetable growing, vegetable yield, vegetables, zinc, China
To provide growing population with sufficient food, greenhouse vegetable production has expanded rapidly in recent years in China and sustainability of its farming practices is a major concern. Therefore, this study assessed the sustainability of greenhouse vegetable farming practices from environmental, economic, and socio-institutional perspectives in China based on selected indicators. The empirical data were collected through a survey of 91 farm households from six typical greenhouse vegetable production bases and analysis of environmental material samples. The results showed that heavy fertilization in greenhouse vegetable bases of China resulted in an accumulation of N, P, Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn in soil, nutrient eutrophication in irrigation water, and high Cd in some leaf vegetables cultivated in acidic soil. Economic factors including decreased crop yield in conventional farming bases, limited and site-dependent farmers’ income, and lack of complete implementation of subsidy policies contributed a lot to adoption of heavy fertilization by farmers. Also, socio-institutional factors such as lack of unified management of agricultural supplies in the bases operated in cooperative and small family business models and low agricultural extension service efficiency intensified the unreasonable fertilization. The selection of cultivated vegetables was mainly based on farmers’ own experience rather than site-dependent soil conditions. Thus, for sustainable development of greenhouse vegetable production systems in China, there are two key aspects. First, it is imperative to reduce environmental pollution and subsequent health risks through integrated nutrient management and the planting strategy of selected low metal accumulation vegetable species especially in acidic soil. Second, a conversion of cooperative and small family business models of greenhouse vegetable bases to enterprises should be extensively advocated in future for the unified agricultural supplies management and improved agricultural extension service efficiency, which in turn can stabilize vegetable yields and increase farmers’ benefits.