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Agriculture, Vol. 11, Pages 1005: A Comparison of IPCC Guidelines and Allocation Methods to Estimate the Environmental Impact of Barley Production in the Basque Country through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Agriculture doi: 10.3390/agriculture11101005

Óscar del Hierro
Patricia Gallejones
Gerardo Besga
Ainara Artetxe
Carlos Garbisu

This study aimed to estimate the environmental impact of barley production in the Basque Country, Northern Spain, using cradle-to-gate life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology, as well as to assess how methodological choices (i.e., the use of IPCC 2019 Guidelines versus allocation methods) can influence such estimation. The production of mineral fertiliser and the direct emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) resulting from the application of nitrogen (N) fertiliser were identified as the two main contributors (40% and 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, respectively) to the environmental impact of barley production. Pertaining to GHG emissions themselves, the use of calcium ammonium nitrate fertiliser was found to be the main contributor. Therefore, the optimization of N fertiliser application was established as a key process to reduce the environmental impact of barley production. The fertiliser-related release of N and phosphorous (P) to the environment was the main contributor to particulate matter formation, terrestrial acidification, and terrestrial and marine eutrophication. The incorporation of environmental data on NH3, NOx, NO3−, and PO43− to the LCA led to a more accurate estimation of barley production impact. A sensitivity analysis showed that the use of economic allocation, compared to mass allocation, increased the estimation of climate change-related impact by 80%. In turn, the application of the IPCC 2019 Refinement Guidelines increased this estimation by a factor of 1.12 and 0.86 in wet regions and decreased in dry regions, respectively. Our results emphasise the importance of the choice of methodology, adapted to the specific case under study, when estimating the environmental impact of food production systems.

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