Organic production systems: Sustainability assesement of rice in Italy

Jacopo Bacenetti, Alessandra Fusi, Marco Negri, Stefano Bocchi, Marco Fiala - Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 225 (2016) 33–44

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

This paper has well-presented data, however, packed with technicalities for the field of the study. Moreover, they clearly discussed that future LCA studies should also take into account the comparison among different rice varieties, irrigation management (e.g. rice cultivation in drained fields) as well as changing climatic conditions, so to give a broader environmental assessment of organic rice production.

There is a general consensus that food production and consumption are related to negative effects on the environment and that they must become more sustainable. Rice cultivation system, both conventional and organic, causes a considerable environmental impact.

The aims of this study are:

  • To evaluate the environmental impact of ORP system in Northern Italy;
  • to identify the environmental hotspots;
  • to compare organic and traditional rice production systems;
  • to propose possible mitigation strategies for ORP, paying particular attention to the water management, organic fertilizers selection and crop residues valorization.


The environmental impact of organic rice cultivation is mainly due to fertilizer application. Compost production is an energy-intensive process while its application, as well as green manure, involves the emission of N and P compounds into soil, air, and water together with methane release in the air.

The comparison between organic and traditional rice production systems carried out in this study is in agreement with the results found by other authors and shows how the usually lower yield achieved in the organic system deeply affect the environmental results when a mass-based functional unit is selected.

Rice cultivation involves different agricultural activities that produce several impacts on the environment. Organic productions, systems are expected to be a viable solution to this issue nevertheless; few evaluations have been carried out with the specific purpose to assess the environmental performance of organic rice.

This work has studied the environmental performance of organic rice cultivation with the aim of identifying hotspots and opportunities for improving its environmental performance. Different scenarios, representing alternative viable agricultural options, have also been proposed and investigated.

The results of the study suggest that consistent with other studies, the major hotspots of rice cultivation were the fertilization, the mechanization of field operations and the emissions of methane associated with the flooded field and of nitrogen and phosphorous compounds from fertilizer application. Among the strategies proposed to improve the environmental performance of organic rice, the substitution of organic compost with cattle manure appears to bring the greatest benefits in 9 out of 11 impact categories. Such benefits range from approximately 13% up to 51%, depending on the impact categories considered. The introduction of aerations during the cultivation period can reduce only climate change (about -9%) but increase all the other environmental effects.

The results of the current study represent a starting point for the implementation of mitigation strategies in rice production areas where rice is cultivated in flooded fields and where different organic fertilizers are available.

2016 - Italy - Jacopo Bacenetti, Alessandra Fusi, Marco Negri, Stefano Bocchi, Marco Fiala - Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 225 (2016) 33–44
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