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Life cycle assessment of vegetable products: a review focusing on cropping systems diversity and the estimation of field emissions

Perrin A., Basset-Mens C., Gabrielle B.. 2014. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 19 (6) : p. 1247-1263.

DOI: 10.1007/s11367-014-0724-3

Purpose Recent life cycle assessment studies for vegetable products have identified the agricultural stage as one of the most important contributors to the environmental impacts for these products, while vegetable production systems are characterized by specific but also widely diverse production conditions. In this context, a review aiming at comparing the potential impacts of vegetable products and analyzing the relevance of the methods and data used for the inventory of the farm stage appeared necessary. Methods Ten papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals or ISO-compliant reports were selected. First, a presentation of the selected papers was done to compare the goal and scope and the life cycle inventory data to the related sections in the ILCDHandbook. Second, a quantitative review of input flows and life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) results (global warming, eutrophication, and acidification) was based on a cropping system typology and on a classification per product group. Third, an in-depth analysis of the methods used to estimate field emissions of reactive nitrogen was proposed. Results and discussion The heated greenhouse system types showed the greatest global warming potential. The giant bean group showed the greatest acidification and eutrophication potentials per kilogram of product, while the tomato group showed the greatest acidification and eutrophication potentials per unit of area. Main sources of variations for impacts across systems were yields and inputs variations and system expansion rules. Overall, the ability to compare the environmental impact for these diverse vegetable products from cradle-toharvest was hampered by (1) weaknesses regarding transparency of goal and scope, (2) a lack of representativeness and completeness of data used for the field stage, and (3) heterogeneous and inadequate methods for estimating field emissions. In particular, methods to estimate reactive nitrogen emissions were applied beyond their validity domain. Conclusions and recommendations This first attempt at comparing the potential impacts of vegetable products pinpointed several gaps in terms of data and methods to reach representative LCIA results for the field production stage. To better account for the specificities of vegetable cropping systems and improve the overall quality of their LCA studies, our key recommendations were (1) to include systematically phosphorus, water, and pesticide fluxes and characterize associated impacts, such as eutrophication, toxicity, and water deprivation; (2) to better address space and time representativeness for field stage inventory data through better sampling procedures and reporting transparency; and (3) to use best available methods and when possible more mechanistic tools for estimating Nr emissions.

Mots-clés : production végétale; fruit; légume; culture sous abri; changement climatique; gaz à effet de serre; dioxyde d'azote; eutrophisation; Évaluation de l'impact; impact sur l'environnement; méthodologie; technique analytique; analyse du cycle de vie

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