Customised life cycle assessment tool for sugarcane (CaneLCA)—a development in the evaluation of alternative agricultural practices
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To promote eco-efficient sugarcane products, there is a need for life cycle assessment (LCA) methods that enable rapid assessment of the environmental implications of alternative agricultural practices. In response, a customised LCA method for sugarcane growing was developed and operationalized in the CaneLCA tool. The aim of the paper was to describe the CaneLCA method in detail and to test the effectiveness of the tool’s parameterisation for evaluating the environmental implications of cane growing practice alternatives.
CaneLCA (Version 1.03) was developed over 6 years (2011–2017) in conjunction with the Australian sugarcane sector. The LCA process was customised for sugarcane growing by focusing on ‘cradle to farm gate’ operations and relevant impact categories, and by parameterising practice variables. To evaluate the effectiveness of the tool, we used it to assess a case study of actual practice changes in the Wet Tropics region of Australia, in terms of the scope of practice variables and environmental implications that can be accounted for.
Results and discussion
The case study results generated by CaneLCA were consistent with those generated by past studies using LCA software. The parameterisation of practice variables allowed for all the practice changes represented in the case study to be assessed. It is suitable for evaluating such known practice alternatives, but less suited to evaluating very innovative practice alternatives, as it is constrained by the underlying algorithms and factors. Most of the environmental implications could be considered, except for effects on soil quality. This will be an area for future tool development to understand the full implications of agricultural practice change, along with the introduction of dynamic models to better estimate emissions.
CaneLCA makes the LCA process more rapid for evaluating alternative sugarcane growing practices, thereby speeding up progress towards devising more eco-efficient sugarcane products. It provides a model that could be adapted for other sugarcane growing regions, and for other perennial cropping systems. The novelty of the method is the detailed parameterisation of practice variables so that a wide range of alternative practices can be evaluated.
KeywordsAgricultural systems Eco-efficiency Environmental impact Parameterisation Perennial crops Streamlined LCA Sustainable agriculture
CaneLCA was developed in a project conducted by the University of Queensland (UQ) and the (then) Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations with funding from the Australian Sugar Research and Development Corporation, now subsumed into Sugar Research Australia (SRA), between July 2011 and March 2013 (Project UQ045). CaneLCA is owned by UQ and distributed via Uniquest Pty Ltd. (eshop.uniquest.com.au/canelca). We acknowledge the following people who contributed to the development of the original version: steering committee (Bianca Cairns, Bernard Milford, Jonathan Pavetto, Sharon Denny, Phil Moody and Phil Hobson), testers of the pilot version (Brad Hussey, Peter McGuire, Andrew Barfield, Ian and Di Dawes and Robert Quirk), technical input (Jeff Tullberg; Guangnan Chen; Melanie Shaw; Joe Lane; Cam Whiteing, Stéphane Guillou), interface development (Eve McDonald), tool evaluators (Michael Waring, David Sudarmana, Guangnan Chen, and others who participated anonymously).
The case study application of the tool was conducted as part of another SRA-funded project led by the Queensland Government’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) (Project 2014/015), for which the lead author was engaged through Life Cycles Pty Ltd., and CaneLCA was used under licence from Uniquest. We acknowledge the farmers, DAF officers (Matthew Thompson and Caleb Connolly) and members of the technical steering group who provided assistance throughout the project.
The work was documented while the lead author was employed by Ecole Supérieure d’Agricultures in France, as part of the FACROLCA project (Fast-tracking eco-conception in agricultural crops with streamlined environmental life cycle assessment tools), funded by the Pays de la Loire region through the Cap Aliment – Food for Tomorrow scheme. The authors also acknowledge the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.
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