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Spatially explicit life cycle impact assessment for soil erosion from global crop production

van Zelm, Rosalie, van der Velde, Marijn, Balkovic, Juraj, Čengić, Mirza, Elshout, Pieter M.F., Koellner, Thomas, Núñez, Montserrat, Obersteiner, Michael, Schmid, Erwin, Huijbregts, Mark A.J.
Ecosystem services 2017
Helianthus annuus, cassava, corn, crop models, crop production, ecosystem services, environmental impact, farmers, fertilizers, irrigation, life cycle impact assessment, product life cycle, rapeseed, soil, soil erosion, soybeans, subsistence farming, sugarcane, wheat
We derived spatially explicit erosion rates in kg of soil lost per kg of crop as a function of crop choice and management practice on a global scale. These so called characterization factors can be used in product life cycle assessment studies to determine the environmental impact crop cultivation causes. We used biophysical crop model EPIC to determine management type specific yields and erosion rates for cassava, corn, rapeseed, soybean, sugarcane, sunflower, and wheat. Yields varied to a large extent and equally contribute to the variation in CFs as the erosion rates. Variation in CFs was mainly attributable to geographic location. Crop type and management scenario, however, still lead to variation in CFs of 2 orders of magnitude, and a factor of 6, respectively. Lowest CFs were predicted for sugarcane, while largest impacts were seen for rapeseed. Largest median CFs were predicted for subsistence farming, while smallest CFs were obtained for irrigated systems with fertilizer inputs. Median estimated damage in 2014 erosion costs were 0.5 to 3.2 $/ton sugarcane to 223 - 540 $/ton rapeseed. Farmers can minimize erosion by careful selection of management strategy, while purchasers can carefully select source locations to help reduce erosion related environmental damage.