The best impact assessment developments of 2019: agricultural modelling

At PRé, we are always keeping an eye on what impact assessment methodology developers are doing to make LCA even more reliable. In this 4-part series, we share with you the highlights of developments on a variety of topics: spatial differentiation, impact pathways, agricultural modelling and more. In this part 3, we discuss 2 important 2019 accomplishments in agricultural modelling This article was written by Laura Golsteijn with contributions from Montserrat Nuñez.

Enhancement of agricultural water scarcity modelling

Masaharu Motoshita and other experts in the field of water use in LCA published a paper on agricultural water scarcity arising from freshwater consumption that provides consistent characterisation factors for midpoint and endpoint methods. The midpoint factors focus on shortages in food production resulting from agricultural water scarcity. The endpoint factors focus on malnutrition damage resulting from agricultural water scarcity. The endpoint model in this study also improved the description of human health damage due to agricultural water scarcity by considering physical/social adaptation capacities and trade-induced damage from international relations.

Assessing impacts from salt emissions in irrigated agriculture

Researchers from the Technical University of Berlin have developed a global, yet locally resolved model to assess the potential effects of the accumulation of water-soluble salts in agricultural soil on the loss of soil quality. They provide spatially explicit LCI data and LCIA characterisation factors for salt emissions in irrigated agriculture.

This model comes with its own LCI data about salt emitted per crop yield, both per country and for 160 crops. This makes it easier for practitioners to implement the model. In most humid regions worldwide, soil salinisation is not a problem (CF=0), but impacts vary a lot in arid regions due to spatial conditions related to climate and soil. This is the first time researchers have developed a globally applicable model to assess salinisation in LCA. The model can help decide on the most sustainable cultural practice. The work was presented at SETAC and CILCA this year and is currently under peer review.

Trend for soil degradation LCIA models

New soil degradation LCIA models for salinisation, compaction, and erosion are linked to real environmental flows (e.g. mass of salts emitted, time and mass of tractor used) rather than LCI land-use classes. Research is focusing on mechanistic models for land-use impacts. In the future, LCA practitioners may be able to easily differentiate between intensities of interventions, whereas currently, land-use types are the interventions. This will allow practitioners to use LCA to eco-design agricultural systems.

If you are interested in reading more about any of these developments, follow the links or contact us. Are you a researcher working on something that might be relevant to share? We are always happy to hear about new developments, so do not hesitate to reach out.

Stay tuned for the other parts in the series. Next topic: everything we didn’t get around to mentioning yet.

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Laura Golsteijn

Consultant

I am eager to increase the environmental awareness of our society, and I believe that everyone can contribute to a more sustainable world, every day. At PRé we provide companies with both the knowledge and the tools to improve their products and services. I am excited to work for an organisation that is involved in developing sustainable initiatives.

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