IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Life cycle assessment of Swiss farming systems: I. Integrated and organic farming


  • Nemecek, Thomas
  • Dubois, David
  • Huguenin-Elie, Olivier
  • Gaillard, Gérard


Organic farming (OF) is considered a promising solution for reducing environmental burdens related to intensive agricultural management practices. The question arises whether OF really reduces the environmental impacts once lower yields and all the changes in farming methods are taken into consideration. This question is addressed in a comprehensive study of Swiss arable cropping and forage production systems comparing OF to integrated production (IP) systems by means of the life cycle assessment (LCA) method. The LCA study investigated the environmental impacts of two long-term farming system experiments: the DOC experiment comparing bio-dynamic, bio-organic and conventional/integrated farming and the "Burgrain" experiment encompassing integrated intensive, integrated extensive and organic production. All treatments received similar amounts of farmyard manure. The system boundary encompasses the plant production system; storage and application of farmyard manure is included in the system boundary, the animal husbandry is not included. The Swiss Agricultural Life Cycle Assessment method (SALCA) was used to analyse the environmental impacts. In the overall assessment OF was revealed to be either superior or similar to IP in environmental terms. OF has its main strengths in better resource conservation, since the farming system relies mainly on farm-internal resources and limits the input of external auxiliary materials. This results in less fossil and mineral resources being consumed. Moreover the greatly restricted use of pesticides makes it possible to markedly reduce ecotoxicity potentials on the one hand, and to achieve a higher biodiversity potential on the other. This overall positive assessment is not valid for all organic products: some products such as potatoes had higher environmental burdens than their counterparts from IP. The main drawbacks identified for Swiss OF systems are lower yields. As a consequence some production factors are used less efficiently, thus partly negating the advantages of OF. Furthermore, the different manure management strategy leads to relatively high nutrient losses in relation to yield. These two points were shown to be the main priorities for the environmental optimisation of OF systems. The differences between the bio-organic and the bio-dynamic farming systems consisted in a slightly higher input of organic matter, a few applications of mineral fertilisers and copper applications in the former. The eco-efficiency analysis led to the conclusion that the optimisation of OF is mainly output-driven, i.e. that higher yields of good quality should be achieved with the available (limited) resources. On the contrary, optimisation of IP was found to be input-driven; the inputs should be used in a quantity and manner which minimise the environmental burdens per unit produced. The study showed that despite the efforts of recent years, there is still considerable room for the environmental optimisation of Swiss farming systems.

Suggested Citation

  • Nemecek, Thomas & Dubois, David & Huguenin-Elie, Olivier & Gaillard, Gérard, 2011. "Life cycle assessment of Swiss farming systems: I. Integrated and organic farming," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 104(3), pages 217-232, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:104:y:2011:i:3:p:217-232

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mouron, Patrik & Scholz, Roland W. & Nemecek, Thomas & Weber, Olaf, 2006. "Life cycle management on Swiss fruit farms: Relating environmental and income indicators for apple-growing," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(3), pages 561-578, June.
    2. Refsgaard, Karen & Halberg, Niels & Kristensen, Erik Steen, 1998. "Energy utilization in crop and dairy production in organic and conventional livestock production systems," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 57(4), pages 599-630, August.
    3. Nemecek, Thomas & Huguenin-Elie, Olivier & Dubois, David & Gaillard, Gérard & Schaller, Britta & Chervet, Andreas, 2011. "Life cycle assessment of Swiss farming systems: II. Extensive and intensive production," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 104(3), pages 233-245, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Murphy, Fionnuala & Devlin, Ger & McDonnell, Kevin, 2014. "Forest biomass supply chains in Ireland: A life cycle assessment of GHG emissions and primary energy balances," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 1-8.
    2. Tuomisto, H.L. & Hodge, I.D. & Riordan, P. & Macdonald, D.W., 2012. "Comparing energy balances, greenhouse gas balances and biodiversity impacts of contrasting farming systems with alternative land uses," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 42-49.
    3. Nemecek, Thomas & Huguenin-Elie, Olivier & Dubois, David & Gaillard, Gérard & Schaller, Britta & Chervet, Andreas, 2011. "Life cycle assessment of Swiss farming systems: II. Extensive and intensive production," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 104(3), pages 233-245, March.
    4. repec:eee:agisys:v:157:y:2017:i:c:p:118-128 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Tendall, Danielle M. & Gaillard, Gérard, 2015. "Environmental consequences of adaptation to climate change in Swiss agriculture: An analysis at farm level," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 40-51.
    6. Zhen, Wei & Qin, Quande & Wei, Yi-Ming, 2017. "Spatio-temporal patterns of energy consumption-related GHG emissions in China's crop production systems," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 274-284.
    7. El Chami, D. & Daccache, A., 2015. "Assessing sustainability of winter wheat production under climate change scenarios in a humid climate — An integrated modelling framework," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 140(C), pages 19-25.
    8. Khoshnevisan, Benyamin & Rafiee, Shahin & Omid, Mahmoud & Mousazadeh, Hossein, 2013. "Reduction of CO2 emission by improving energy use efficiency of greenhouse cucumber production using DEA approach," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 676-682.
    9. repec:eee:agisys:v:157:y:2017:i:c:p:39-50 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Khoshnevisan, Benyamin & Rafiee, Shahin & Omid, Mahmoud & Yousefi, Marziye & Movahedi, Mehran, 2013. "Modeling of energy consumption and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in wheat production in Esfahan province of Iran using artificial neural networks," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 333-338.
    11. Wheeler, Sarah Ann & Zuo, Alec & Loch, Adam, 2015. "Watering the farm: Comparing organic and conventional irrigation water use in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 78-85.
    12. Kazemi, Hossein & Bourkheili, Saeid Hassanpour & Kamkar, Behnam & Soltani, Afshin & Gharanjic, Kambiz & Nazari, Noor Mohammad, 2016. "Estimation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission and energy use efficiency (EUE) analysis in rainfed canola production (case study: Golestan province, Iran)," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 116(P1), pages 694-700.
    13. Njakou Djomo, S. & Ac, A. & Zenone, T. & De Groote, T. & Bergante, S. & Facciotto, G. & Sixto, H. & Ciria Ciria, P. & Weger, J. & Ceulemans, R., 2015. "Energy performances of intensive and extensive short rotation cropping systems for woody biomass production in the EU," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 845-854.
    14. Houshyar, Ehsan & Grundmann, Philipp, 2017. "Environmental impacts of energy use in wheat tillage systems: A comparative life cycle assessment (LCA) study in Iran," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 11-24.
    15. Khoshnevisan, Benyamin & Shariati, Hanifreza Motamed & Rafiee, Shahin & Mousazadeh, Hossein, 2014. "Comparison of energy consumption and GHG emissions of open field and greenhouse strawberry production," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 29(C), pages 316-324.
    16. Niero, Monia & Ingvordsen, Cathrine H. & Peltonen-Sainio, Pirjo & Jalli, Marja & Lyngkjær, Michael F. & Hauschild, Michael Z. & Jørgensen, Rikke B., 2015. "Eco-efficient production of spring barley in a changed climate: A Life Cycle Assessment including primary data from future climate scenarios," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 46-60.
    17. Moretti, Michele & De Boni, Annalisa & Roma, Rocco & Fracchiolla, Mariano & Van Passel, Steven, 2016. "Integrated assessment of agro-ecological systems: The case study of the “Alta Murgia” National park in Italy," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 144(C), pages 144-155.
    18. Murphy, Fionnuala & Devlin, Ger & McDonnell, Kevin, 2013. "Miscanthus production and processing in Ireland: An analysis of energy requirements and environmental impacts," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 412-420.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:104:y:2011:i:3:p:217-232. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.