Organic Versus Conventional Farming: The Case of wheat Production in Wallonia (Belgium)

Florence Van Stappen, Astrid Loriers, Michaël Mathot , Viviane Planchon , Didier Stilmant , Frédéric Debode - Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia Volume 7, 2015, Pages 272-279

Farm Table says:

This paper is based on Belgium, however, this might be of help only to those who share the same climate and area characteristics. The Method use and its limitations were not given too.

An Introduction

There is an increasing awareness among western consumers regarding their behavior matching sustainable development, translated by a modification of some food consumption habits. Organic products are often perceived as more environmentally-friendly than their conventional counterparts. European consumers ask for more information on environmental impacts of food products. This explains why European countries are eager to promote environmental labeling and sustainable food products.

It is, therefore, crucial to be able to determine more precisely the carbon footprint and more globally the environmental impacts of food products. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology is appropriate to reach such a goal. Using the LCA methodology, this study aimed at comparing the environmental impacts of the organic and conventional production of wheat. Results are very sensitive to the choice of the functional unit.

The aim of this study is to assess and compare the environmental impacts of organic and conventional wheat. It aims at highlighting environmental hotspots of both production modes and identifying limitations of LCAs conducted on organic productions.

Methods and Result Discussion

The system boundaries of both systems include all production steps from the field to the farm gate, including machinery production and use, inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds) production, transport and use, and land occupation. Two functional units (FU) are investigated and compared: 1 kg fresh matter (FM, 85% of dry matter) of wheat and 1 hectare (ha) of a wheat-cropped area.

When compared on the basis of the mass (kg), organically cropped wheat seems to induce more environmental impacts than conventionally cropped wheat in terms of acidification, eutrophication, land occupation and photo-oxidants formation.

Overall the most influential parameter seems to be the yield.

• With yields among the highest in the world, the well-mastered production of conventional wheat in Wallonia shows smaller impacts than lower yielding organic wheat.

• On the basis of the land area (ha), organic wheat is more environmentally-friendly than conventional wheat in terms of global warming, photo-oxidant formation, and energy demand.

• Emissions from fertilizer application on field predominate in the results. Using more specific emission models would improve the quality of the results.

• Specific data for nutrient and trace metal contents would also enable to enhance results precision. Accounting for the whole rotation would also help to allocate more accurately fertilizers applied for the whole rotation and benefiting to successive crops.

• Considering organic carbon storage from managed soils would also help refine results.

• Beside environmental criteria, taking account of social and economic impacts, such as working conditions and added value distribution all along the processing chain, would allow encompassing other aspects of the sustainability of organic and conventional wheat production in Wallonia.

This study could be improved by accounting for rotation effects, by using more specific models to calculate emissions due to organic and mineral fertilization, and by accounting for carbon storage in soil.

2015 - Belgium - Florence Van Stappen, Astrid Loriers, Michaël Mathot , Viviane Planchon , Didier Stilmant , Frédéric Debode - Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia Volume 7, 2015, Pages 272-279
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