An agile approach for evaluating the environmental-economic performance of cropping systems at experimental stage: the case of Brazilian mango

Abstract

Purpose

The lack of approaches to consider the economic-life cycle environmental performance of cropping systems at experimental stage and the absence of evaluations regarding alternative mango systems are issues addressed in this paper. In this study, an approach for assessing the environmental-economic performance of alternative crop systems, at the experimental stage, is proposed and applied to the mango experiment in Brazil. This approach may be used in other assessments of cropping systems at experimental stage.

Methods

The proposed approach encompasses three consecutive evaluations: agronomic and environmental-economic. Initially, the agronomic evaluation statistically compares the yield of alternative cropping systems (treatments in the experiment). Next, a treatment is selected among those with significant better yield and compared to the treatment representing the conventional system, considering environmental and economic criteria. The environmental criteria are the carbon and water footprints of the selected treatments, according to ISO 14067 and 14,046, while the economic is profitability (revenue minus costs with labor and inputs). This approach was applied to evaluate an 8-year mango experiment in the Sao Francisco Valley, Brazil, which intercropped mango trees with two types of plant mixtures (cover crops with different plant mixes), applying two soil management systems (tillage and no-tillage).

Results and discussion

The agronomic assessment that statistically compared yields showed that four treatments (T1, T2, T4, and T5) obtained higher yields than those representing the conventional system (T3 and T6). Treatment T4 was selected among the ones with higher yields, and compared with T6 (conventional system), considering the economic and environmental criteria. The economic analysis showed that in 30 years (expected orchard life time), T4 generates a profit that is 44% higher than T6. Regarding the environmental analysis, T4 presents a 16% lower carbon footprint and from 16 to 435% lower water footprint than T6, according to the impact category considered. The scenario where land use changed from an annual crop (melon) to mango orchard further reduced both carbon and water footprints of mangoes produced in T4.

Conclusions

The application of the proposed approach to the mango experiment resulted in the reduction of time and data requirements when evaluating the economic-environmental performance of mango alternative cropping systems, allowing the selection of best performing treatment. The assessment of economic-environmental performance showed that treatments with plant mixtures used as cover crops between lines of mango trees, independently of the type of mix used or the soil management applied, enhance the overall performance of mango production.

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Funding

This work was supported by the Brazilian Agriculture Research Corporation.

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Correspondence to Maria Cléa Brito de Figueirêdo.

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Dias, A.F., Giongo, V., da Silva Barros, V. et al. An agile approach for evaluating the environmental-economic performance of cropping systems at experimental stage: the case of Brazilian mango. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01772-2

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Keywords

  • Life cycle assessment
  • Water footprint
  • Carbon footprint
  • Green manure
  • Cover crops