Grassauer, F. , Herndl, M. , Iten, L. , Stüssi, M. , Harder, R. , Gaillard, G. , Kraus, F. (2022): D5.2. Environmental profile of agro-ecosystems and of the food value chain.

Hoehere Bundeslehr-Und Forschungsanstalt Fuer Landwirtschaft Raumberg-Gumpenstein


Satisfying the ever-growing global food demand was traditionally done by expanding and intensifying agricultural production. However, these practices led to considerable environmental impacts as the food value chain nowadays accounts for considerable amounts of greenhouse gas emissions (26 % of global anthropogenic emissions) and eutrophication (78 % of global emissions). Therefore, the project Circular Agronomics aims at the assessment of practical and technical solutions to improve the current carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) cycling in European agro-ecosystems and related up- and downstream processes within the food supply chain. The project comprises six case studies from different regions in the European Union (i.e., Catalunia, Spain; Brandenburg, Germany; Lungau, Austria; Emilia-Romagna, Italy; Gelderland, Netherlands; South Moravia, Czech Republic) that planned to conduct ten different experiments in order to test the practical and technical solutions by either a combination of a technical sub-system with a subsequent agricultural field experiment or a sole agricultural field experiment. However, different restraints led to waiver or postponement of certain traits of some experiments. Therefore, the data collection only yielded seven experiments with complete data. Regarding the other three experiments, at least data on the respective technical sub-systems could be collected. The experiments were subsequently assigned to three innovative strategies which aim at different compartments of agricultural production (i.e., (1) nutrient management in crop production, (2) nutrient management in livestock production, (3) and waste management and nutrient/carbon recovery). The different experiments were analyzed according to their respective system description and in compliance with the methodology as outlined in Deliverable 5.1. Moreover, abiotic resource depletion was added as an environmental impact category due to its relevance for experiments that focus on mineral fertilizer as impacts from background processes such as mining. The strategy of nutrient management in crop production comprised three experiments that investigated different management parameters to increase the nutrient efficiency in crop production. The results show that increasing levels of N fertilization leads to higher yields and increases emissions (abiotic resource depletion and eutrophication), which is even more pronounced under a dry climate. Regarding the timing of fertilization, four weeks after sowing showed the least emissions, which can be explained by the higher N demand of the plants at this stage. Moreover, the test of different tillage regimes indicated the no-tillage variant to be favorable in terms of environmental impacts per kg crop. Results of two experiments assigned to the innovative strategy of nutrient management in livestock production showed the beneficial effects of precision feeding in terms of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and eutrophication due to a needs-oriented supply of nutrients that leads to lower losses. It could further be shown that the extensive management of organic dairy farms can be very efficient in terms of eutrophication if the management intensity matches the natural production potential of the agricultural area of the farm. The remaining five experiments examined improvements in waste management and carbon/nutrient recovery by using waste streams as potential sources of nutrients or reducing emissions by capturing nutrients. Regarding three investigated digestate treatment concepts, microfiltration/ microsieving revealed the lowest environmental impacts. Regarding capturing nutrients, the struvite technology can recover and subsequently recycle these nutrients in a comparably clean and plant available form from soybean wastewater treatment with low environmental impacts. The membrane technology seems to be an electricity-saving alternative compound for whey thickening compared to centrifuges. Overall, it could be shown that the innovative technical sub-systems cause additional efforts (such as electricity consumption) and corresponding additional impacts. However, the subsequent farming systems should be able to achieve reduced emissions. Regarding the non-renewable energy demand and global warming potential of the observed systems, it seems rather unlikely that a corresponding reduction in emissions by farming systems can be realized. Conversely, it is more likely that this trade-off can be achieved for acidification and eutrophication (especially ammonia emissions), where agriculture has a crucial role. The report shows particular areas of improvement for process engineers focusing on optimization of technologies and farmers/agricultural researchers for optimization of their nutrient management behaviors. From the comparison, particular done for one experiment and separated assessments done for others and incomplete data-sets for several technical and farming systems, we only can state that such a hybrid out of technology and agriculture may reduce environmental impacts if it is well applied, however there it is unlikely that it is always well applied. Nonetheless, this aspect of dedicated nutrient management and emission mitigation should be investigated further.


General methodology of Life Cycle Assessment that will be used to assess the environmental evaluation of each case study. This includes the description of the used methods and tools, as well as information that applies for all studied systems. The document also comprises the methodological approach, the interpretation concept and specific assumptions for the innovative production strategies assessed within the CS of Circular Agronomics. All studied systems are described in detail and a brief overview over the further steps of the environmental assessment, including data collection and calculations is given.

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