Environmental sustainability of conventional and organic farming: Accounting for ecosystem services in life cycle assessment

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    Today, there is an ongoing debate about the environmental sustainability of the products of organic farming. To compare the performance of conventional and organic farming systems regarding environmental impact and productivity, the comprehensive environmental assessment tool ‘life cycle assessment’ can be used. The lower crop yields attained by organic systems compared to conventional farming systems might, however, outweigh the benefits of the use of more environmental-friendly practices when evaluating the environmental impact per product unit. Although these practices are beneficial for the environment, which is reflected in the delivery of a range of ecosystem services (ES), the focus is traditionally put only on the (harvested) product. Because the agricultural product involves actually a bundle of ES, the impact should be
    allocated among thewhole output of an agricultural system. In this study, we propose an allocation procedure based on the capacity of agricultural systems to deliver ES to divide the environmental impact over all agricultural outputs (i.e. provisioning and other ES). Allocation factors are developed for conventional and organic arable farming systems. Applying these allocation factors, we demonstrate that for about half of the studied food products (including maize, potato), organic farming has clear environmental benefits in terms of resource consumption in comparison to conventional cultivation methods. This allocation approach allows amore complete comparison of the environmental sustainability
    of organically and conventionally produced food.
    TaalEngels
    Artikel nummer133481
    TijdschriftScience of the Total Environment
    Volume695
    Exemplaarnummer2019
    ISSN0048-9697
    StatusGepubliceerd - 2019

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