Alternative cultivation practices such as organic and integrated farming are generally proposed as a mean to reduce environmental impacts associated with food production and consumption. For the same reason, various schemes of direct sale or distribution of local agricultural products have been increasingly developed as an alternative to large-scale distribution of nationally or globally sourced products. However, for a variety of vegetable crops such as salads and leaves, there is few scientific evidence about the relative environmental performance of alternative farming techniques. Similarly, alternative distribution systems have mainly been investigated only in terms of their energy and climate change performance, and mostly within the debate on domestic/local versus imported/delocalised food supply. In this paper, life cycle assessment (LCA) was used to compare the potential environmental impacts of two agricultural supply chains, with the primary aim of testing the expected benefits of vegetable organic farming and of alternative forms of distribution promoting packaging reduction and a shortened supply chain. Organic and integrated production of endive (Cichorium endivia) in Lombardia (northern Italy) were firstly compared, according to a cradle-to-farm gate approach. The comparison was then extended to the whole supply chain, considering the direct distribution of raw organic endive to local networks of ethical purchasing groups by means of returnable crates, and the large-scale retailing of conventional endive as a ready-to-use product after its industrial cutting, washing and packing. Fourteen environmental and human health impact categories were considered as terms of comparison, along with the cumulative energy demand. Results revealed that none of the examined farming techniques has a better overall environmental profile. In fact, when impacts are expressed per hectare of cultivated area, nearly half impact categories (7/15) are favourable to organic farming, with impact reductions ranging from 13% to 55%. However, organic fertilisation practices are responsible for higher impacts of this cultivation form in terms of acidification (+16%), terrestrial eutrophication (+32%) and non-carcinogenic human toxicity (+127%). Per kg of harvested product, impact categories favourable to organic farming are reduced to five, while six are favourable to integrated farming (which achieves higher yields). Organic farming techniques thus need to be further improved in terms of fertilisation practices and achievable yields in order to achieve a more sustainable production system. Considering the whole supply chain, the direct distribution of the raw organic product loose at the local level is preferable for all impact categories except one, where the impact of the farming stage is dominant and against organic production. This exception however disappears if farming is excluded from the comparison (i.e. only distribution and consumption are considered). Observed reductions in overall supply chain impacts range mostly between 20% and 48% and are mainly enabled by the absence of disposable packaging items and industrial processing.

Environmental sustainability of agri-food supply chains: An LCA comparison between two alternative forms of production and distribution of endive in northern Italy

NESSI, SIMONE;RIGAMONTI, LUCIA
2017

Abstract

Alternative cultivation practices such as organic and integrated farming are generally proposed as a mean to reduce environmental impacts associated with food production and consumption. For the same reason, various schemes of direct sale or distribution of local agricultural products have been increasingly developed as an alternative to large-scale distribution of nationally or globally sourced products. However, for a variety of vegetable crops such as salads and leaves, there is few scientific evidence about the relative environmental performance of alternative farming techniques. Similarly, alternative distribution systems have mainly been investigated only in terms of their energy and climate change performance, and mostly within the debate on domestic/local versus imported/delocalised food supply. In this paper, life cycle assessment (LCA) was used to compare the potential environmental impacts of two agricultural supply chains, with the primary aim of testing the expected benefits of vegetable organic farming and of alternative forms of distribution promoting packaging reduction and a shortened supply chain. Organic and integrated production of endive (Cichorium endivia) in Lombardia (northern Italy) were firstly compared, according to a cradle-to-farm gate approach. The comparison was then extended to the whole supply chain, considering the direct distribution of raw organic endive to local networks of ethical purchasing groups by means of returnable crates, and the large-scale retailing of conventional endive as a ready-to-use product after its industrial cutting, washing and packing. Fourteen environmental and human health impact categories were considered as terms of comparison, along with the cumulative energy demand. Results revealed that none of the examined farming techniques has a better overall environmental profile. In fact, when impacts are expressed per hectare of cultivated area, nearly half impact categories (7/15) are favourable to organic farming, with impact reductions ranging from 13% to 55%. However, organic fertilisation practices are responsible for higher impacts of this cultivation form in terms of acidification (+16%), terrestrial eutrophication (+32%) and non-carcinogenic human toxicity (+127%). Per kg of harvested product, impact categories favourable to organic farming are reduced to five, while six are favourable to integrated farming (which achieves higher yields). Organic farming techniques thus need to be further improved in terms of fertilisation practices and achievable yields in order to achieve a more sustainable production system. Considering the whole supply chain, the direct distribution of the raw organic product loose at the local level is preferable for all impact categories except one, where the impact of the farming stage is dominant and against organic production. This exception however disappears if farming is excluded from the comparison (i.e. only distribution and consumption are considered). Observed reductions in overall supply chain impacts range mostly between 20% and 48% and are mainly enabled by the absence of disposable packaging items and industrial processing.
Integrated production; Life cycle assessment (LCA); Local food; Packaging reduction; Organic farming; Short supply chain
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11311/1011501
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