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Emergy evaluation of the contribution of irrigation water, and its utilization, in three agricultural systems in China

Chen, Dan, Luo, Zhaohui, Webber, Michael, Chen, Jing, Wang, Weiguang
Frontiers of earth science 2014 v.8 no.3 pp. 325-337
Brassica napus var. napus, best management practices, crop production, emergy, fertilizers, irrigation rates, irrigation water, production technology, rice, wheat, China
Emergy theory and method are used to evaluate the contribution of irrigation water, and the process of its utilization, in three agricultural systems. The agricultural systems evaluated in this study were rice, wheat, and oilseed rape productions in an irrigation pumping district of China. A corresponding framework for emergy evaluation and sensitivity analysis methods was proposed. Two new indices, the fraction of irrigation water (FIW), and the irrigation intensity of agriculture (IIA), were developed to depict the contribution of irrigation water. The calculated FIW indicated that irrigation water used for the rice production system (34.7%) contributed more than irrigation water used for wheat (5.3%) and oilseed rape (11.2%) production systems in a typical dry year. The wheat production with an IIA of 19.0 had the highest net benefit from irrigation compared to the rice (2.9) and oilseed rape (8.9) productions. The transformities of the systems’ products represented different energy efficiencies for rice (2.50E + 05 sej·J⁻¹), wheat (1.66E + 05 sej·J⁻¹) and oilseed rape (2.14E + 05 sej·J⁻¹) production systems. According to several emergy indices, of the three systems evaluated, the rice system had the greatest level of sustainability. However, all of them were less sustainable than the ecological agricultural systems. A sensitivity analysis showed that the emergy inputs of irrigation water and nitrogenous fertilizer were the highest sensitivity factors influencing the emergy ratios. Best Management Practices, and other agroecological strategies, could be implemented to make further improvements in the sustainability of the three systems.