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Modelling environmental effects of selected agricultural management strategies with regional statistically based screening LCA

Avadi Tapia A.D., Corson M.S., Van Der Werf H.M.G.. 2018. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 23 (1) : p. 12-25.

DOI: 10.1007/s11367-017-1300-4

Purpose Despite the farm being considered by many as the most suitable level of decision-making and strategic management in agriculture, there is an increasing interest in evaluating agricultural management strategies at the regional level. Recent initiatives attempted to aggregate and generalise farm-level lifecycle inventory (LCI) data and lifecycle impact assessment (LCIA) results to describe the environmental performance of agricultural regions. This article describes our development and application of a regional statistics-based approach for constructing virtual representative farms (VRFs), representing dominant farm types for a given region, as a tool for comparing alternative regional agricultural strategies in contexts of insufficient farm (e.g. LCI) data. Methods Based on statistical sources, we constructed VRFs of the dominant farm types in the largely agricultural region of Brittany, France. Environmental impacts of different agricultural management strategies were estimated at the regional level by modelling the strategies as changes in VRF-based LCIs, calculating LCIAs and extrapolating their mean per-ha impacts to the total land use in the region. Based on this assessment, performed using a regional lifecycle assessment framework, we analysed relative environmental impacts of each management strategy on the region. A strategy-comparison table was built to allow decision makers to understand the potential regional environmental consequences of implementing each strategy. Results and discussion Once VRFs impact assessment results were extrapolated to the regional level, all strategies show environmental impacts per ha similar to those of the baseline, with differences ranging from -15 to +6%. The scenario featuring centralised fodder drying by 50% of cattle farms (50FOD) is the only one featuring surpluses for all products, due to associated cattle diet adjustments including reduced maize silage intake and partial substitution of concentrate feeds. The scenario featuring grass specialisation by all cattle farms (100GRA) shows a large deficit of grassland products, suggesting that a region-wide extensification strategy would not be self-sufficient. Conclusions The method developed enables comparing environmental consequences of region-wide implementation of agricultural strategies, yet, for our case study, it is particularly difficult to identify a ¿best¿ one. Nonetheless, the method serves as an initial step for preselecting strategies to investigate at a more detailed level. Prioritisation of a given strategy would likely be based on the environmental pressures considered most pressing by regional decision makers.

Mots-clés : structure agraire; pratique culturale; agriculture; impact sur l'environnement; utilisation des terres; analyse du cycle de vie; aménagement du paysage; Élevage extensif; pâturages; fourrage; modélisation environnementale; modélisation des cultures; développement agricole; développement régional; france; bretagne; développement territorial

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