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Comparing energy balances, greenhouse gas balances and biodiversity impacts of contrasting farming systems with alternative land uses


  • Tuomisto, H.L.
  • Hodge, I.D.
  • Riordan, P.
  • Macdonald, D.W.


Life cycle assessment (LCA) is commonly used for comparing environmental impacts of contrasting farming systems. However, the interpretation of agricultural LCA studies may be flawed when the alternative land use options are not properly taken into account. This study compared energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) balances and biodiversity impacts of different farming systems by using LCA accompanied by an assessment of alternative land uses. Farm area and food product output were set equal across all of the farm models, and any land remaining available after the food crop production requirement had been met was assumed to be used for other purposes. Three different management options for that land area were compared: Miscanthus energy crop production, managed forest and natural forest. The results illustrate the significance of taking into account the alternative land use options and suggest that integrated farming systems have potential to improve the energy and GHG balances and biodiversity compared to both organic and conventional systems. Sensitivity analysis shows that the models are most sensitive for crop and biogas yields and for the nitrous oxide emission factors. This paper provides an approach that can be further developed for identifying land management systems that optimize food production and environmental benefits.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:108:y:2012:i:c:p:42-49
    DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2012.01.004

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Thomassen, M.A. & van Calker, K.J. & Smits, M.C.J. & Iepema, G.L. & de Boer, I.J.M., 2008. "Life cycle assessment of conventional and organic milk production in the Netherlands," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 96(1-3), pages 95-107, March.
    3. Stone, James J. & Dollarhide, Christopher R. & Benning, Jennifer L. & Gregg Carlson, C. & Clay, David E., 2012. "The life cycle impacts of feed for modern grow-finish Northern Great Plains US swine production," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 106(1), pages 1-10.
    4. Styles, David & Jones, Michael B., 2008. "Miscanthus and willow heat production--An effective land-use strategy for greenhouse gas emission avoidance in Ireland?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 97-107, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michal Kulak & Thomas Nemecek & Emmanuel Frossard & Gérard Gaillard, 2013. "How Eco-Efficient Are Low-Input Cropping Systems in Western Europe, and What Can Be Done to Improve Their Eco-Efficiency?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(9), pages 1-22, September.
    2. Pierie, F. & Benders, R.M.J. & Bekkering, J. & van Gemert, W.J.Th. & Moll, H.C., 2016. "Lessons from spatial and environmental assessment of energy potentials for Anaerobic Digestion production systems applied to the Netherlands," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 176(C), pages 233-244.
    3. Siegmeier, Torsten & Blumenstein, Benjamin & Möller, Detlev, 2015. "Farm biogas production in organic agriculture: System implications," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 196-209.


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