IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Potential of life cycle assessment to support environmental decision making at commercial dairy farms


  • Meul, Marijke
  • Van Middelaar, Corina E.
  • de Boer, Imke J.M.
  • Van Passel, Steven
  • Fremaut, Dirk
  • Haesaert, Geert


In this paper, we evaluate the potential of life cycle assessment (LCA) to support environmental decision making at commercial dairy farms. To achieve this, we follow a four-step method that allows converting environmental assessment results using LCA into case-specific advice for farmers. This is illustrated in a case-study involving 20 specialized Flemish dairy farms. Calculated LCA indicators are normalized into scores between 0 and 100, whereby a score of 100 is assumed optimal, to allow for a mutual comparison of indicators for different environmental impact categories. Next, major farm and management characteristics affecting environmental performance are identified using multiple regression and correlation analyses. Finally, comparing specific farm and management characteristics with those of best performing farms identifies farm-specific optimization strategies. We conclude that this approach complies with most of the identified critical success factors for the successful implementation of LCA as a decision support system for farmers. Key aspects herein are (i) the flexibility and accessibility of the model, (ii) the use of readily available farm data, (iii) farm advisors being intended model users, (iv) the identification of key farm and management characteristics affecting environmental performance and (v) the organization of discussion sessions involving farmers and farm advisors. However, attention should be paid (i) to provide sufficient training and guidance for farm advisors on the use of the applied LCA model and the interpretation of results, (ii) to evaluate the correctness of the used data and (iii) to keep the model up-to-date according to new scientific insights and knowledge concerning LCA methodology.

Suggested Citation

  • Meul, Marijke & Van Middelaar, Corina E. & de Boer, Imke J.M. & Van Passel, Steven & Fremaut, Dirk & Haesaert, Geert, 2014. "Potential of life cycle assessment to support environmental decision making at commercial dairy farms," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 105-115.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:131:y:2014:i:c:p:105-115
    DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2014.08.006

    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. Thomassen, M.A. & Dolman, M.A. & van Calker, K.J. & de Boer, I.J.M., 2009. "Relating life cycle assessment indicators to gross value added for Dutch dairy farms," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(8-9), pages 2278-2284, June.
    2. Johanna Olsson & Lotta Andersson, 2007. "Possibilities and problems with the use of models as a communication tool in water resource management," Water Resources Management: An International Journal, Published for the European Water Resources Association (EWRA), Springer;European Water Resources Association (EWRA), vol. 21(1), pages 97-110, January.
    3. 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.
    4. Nelson, R. A. & Holzworth, D. P. & Hammer, G. L. & Hayman, P. T., 2002. "Infusing the use of seasonal climate forecasting into crop management practice in North East Australia using discussion support software," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 74(3), pages 393-414, December.
    5. Carberry, P. S. & Hochman, Z. & McCown, R. L. & Dalgliesh, N. P. & Foale, M. A. & Poulton, P. L. & Hargreaves, J. N. G. & Hargreaves, D. M. G. & Cawthray, S. & Hillcoat, N. & Robertson, M. J., 2002. "The FARMSCAPE approach to decision support: farmers', advisers', researchers' monitoring, simulation, communication and performance evaluation," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 74(1), pages 141-177, October.
    6. Van Middelaar, C.E. & Berentsen, P.B.M. & Dijkstra, J. & De Boer, I.J.M., 2013. "Evaluation of a feeding strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farming: The level of analysis matters," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 9-22.
    7. O’Brien, Donal & Shalloo, Laurence & Patton, Joe & Buckley, Frank & Grainger, Chris & Wallace, Michael, 2012. "A life cycle assessment of seasonal grass-based and confinement dairy farms," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 33-46.
    8. Payraudeau, Sylvain & van der Werf, Hayo M.G. & Vertes, Francoise, 2007. "Analysis of the uncertainty associated with the estimation of nitrogen losses from farming systems," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 94(2), pages 416-430, May.
    9. Cox, P. G., 1996. "Some issues in the design of agricultural decision support systems," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 52(2-3), pages 355-381.
    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. Kipling, Richard P. & Bannink, André & Bellocchi, Gianni & Dalgaard, Tommy & Fox, Naomi J. & Hutchings, Nicholas J. & Kjeldsen, Chris & Lacetera, Nicola & Sinabell, Franz & Topp, Cairistiona F.E. & va, 2016. "Modeling European ruminant production systems: Facing the challenges of climate change," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 147(C), pages 24-37.
    2. 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.


    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:131:y:2014:i:c:p:105-115. 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.