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Evaluation of the environmental impacts of apple production using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): Case study in New Zealand

Mila i Canals, L., Burnip, G.M., Cowell, S.J.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2006 v.114 no.2-4 pp. 226-238
Malus domestica, apples, environmental impact, input output analysis, case studies, orchards, good agricultural practices, integrated agricultural systems, spatial variation, energy use and consumption, pesticides, simulation models, agricultural machinery and equipment, life cycle assessment, New Zealand
In order to evaluate alternative agricultural production methods that may reduce environmental impacts, assessment tools are required that measure the consequences of changing systems. This paper explores the usefulness of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in identifying environmental improvement opportunities in horticultural systems. LCA has been applied to three commercial apple (Malus x domestica, Borkh.) orchards and two reference orchards, representing standard practices according to expert advice, in New Zealand. Variability observed in the results suggests growers' technique exerts considerable impact on the LCA results, introducing variances of 30-50% in energy consumption and other environmental impacts when performing the same field operation. Despite a small sample size, the origins of the environmental impacts resulting from these examples of Integrated Fruit Production (IFP) were observed to be generally similar. Human toxicity related impacts were dominated by emissions of the synthetic pesticides used in IFP, and were thoroughly modelled in the study. The production of pesticides and agricultural machinery was found to be significant in the overall energy consumption of the orchard; pesticide production represented 10-20% of energy consumption, while machinery production accounted for 7-12% of energy consumption in all study sites. The application of LCA helped to identify improvement opportunities to reduce environmental impacts within this and related production systems, and demonstrated its usefulness in setting priorities to realise these opportunities. LCA is a holistic approach that measures the different environmental impacts from agriculture and is useful for the development of certification schemes such as EUREP GAP, or the assessment of the environmental soundness of agricultural technologies.