The public concern about food production sustainability has increased of late because of the increase in the world population as well as the growing natural resources insufficiency. Although numerous sustainable practices of cultivation have been developed up to now, the overall impacts of the introduction of these sustainable practices into the farm management are still vague. The life cycle assessment plays a crucial role in assessing the environmental impact of the whole systems of production from the life cycle point of view. Although some countries have applied LCA to the agricultural systems, its applications to the production of rice are still insufficient in spite of the reality that rice is the staple food in many nations. The current increase in the organic rice production might call for the evaluation of the total environmental impacts of the agricultural activities. For this reason, this paper compares and contrasts two research papers on the production of rice in Taihu, China and Vercelli, Italy.
One of the research papers titled, “Life cycle assessment of a rice production system in Taihu region, China” is by Mingxin Wang, Qianjin Zhang, Xunfeng Xia, and Jianguo Liu. The other research paper titled, “The life cycle of rice: LCA of alternative agri-food chain management systems in Vercelli, Italy” is by Mirko Busto and Gian Andrea Blengini. Mingxin Wang, Qianjin Zhang, Xunfeng Xia, and Jianguo Liu in their research paper use a life cycle assessment technique to inspect the environmental impact of the system of rice production in Taihu area, in China. The life cycle assessment the researchers used considered the whole system needed to produce 1 t of rice. In their analysis, they include agrochemical production as well as transportation (APT), raw material extraction as well as transportation (RMET), and finally the arable farming (AF) in Taihu, China. On the other hand, Mirko Busto and Gian Andrea Blengini in their research paper also use a life cycle technique to the system of rice production from paddy area to the supermarket. The life cycle assessment that the researchers use indicates the impact magnitude per kilogram of the delivered white milled rice.
According to Wang, Qianjin, Xunfeng, and Jianguo, China is among the primary producers of rice in the world where the high yields are realized by high rates of nitrogen application. They argue that the application of great quantities of the chemical nitrogen to the paddy soil has essentially decreased the efficiency in nitrogen utilization and a rise in the environmental pollution (Wang et al., 157). On the other hand, Busto and Blengini argue that the Vercelli rice district represents 33 percent of Italy rice production as it is among the most technologically advanced rice farming areas in the world (Blengini and Busto, 1512).
The researchers go on and report that rice production in Vercelli, Italy generate environmental impacts that include water pollution — soil pollution, and raw materials — as well as energy consumption. What’s more, they argue that paddy fields are responsible for the 10-13 percent of global methane anthropogenic emissions, and thus contribute to a large extent to the phenomenon of global warming.
The research paper by Wang, Qianjin, Xunfeng, and Jianguo reports that life cycle assessment (LCA) has been integrated into the ISO 14040 environmental management systems, and thus it serves as a vital tool for the management of the environment. Therefore, in their research paper, they describe LCA application to examine the environmental impacts of the system of rice production in Taihu area. Besides they provide some suggestions to reduce the negative consequences of production of rice on the environment. In contrast, Busto and Blengini in their study, report that life cycle assessment is becoming increasingly vital in the agri-food industries, since it can be utilized in evaluating the environmental performances of the products. They go on and argue that the application of life cycle assessment to the agri-food chain is essentially complex by nature of the involved processes. The researchers in their research paper report that a from- cradle-to-gate model of life cycle assessment that represents 97 percent of rice production in Vercelli district was constructed according to ISO 14040 standards (Blengini and Busto, 1513). Therefore, in their study, the researchers included the examination of LCAs for three different rice cultivating as well as food processing methods. They included upland farming, parboiling, and organic farming. They modified the life cycle assessment model for the white milled rice to inspect the potential for the environmental performance improvement in the rice industry.
In terms of goal and scope definition, Mingxin, Qianjin, Xunfeng, and Jianguo used 1 t of rice functional unit in their study. In addition, they divided rice production system into three subsystems including RMET, APT, and AF as mentioned. They excluded the production processes of pesticides, machines, roads, and buildings due to a lack of data. In terms of inventory analysis, they inferred the amount of fossil energy used and irrigation water consumed from farmer and local expert interviews (Wang et al., 158). They calculated the indirect forms such as pesticides and fertilizers from the consumption of the prime energy factors in China. They estimated emissions originating from combustion, refining, and exploration of fossil fuels using the recognized factors from the literature. In addition, they obtained the arable land emission factors from the reported observations done in Changzhou city and other cities in Taihu region, and afterwards adjusted according to the definite circumstances of system under examination.
In terms of impact assessment, the life cycle impact assessment by Mingxin, Qianjin, Xunfeng, and Jianguo sought to further construe the LCI data that involved three crucial steps including characterization, normalization, and finally weighing. In their study, the researchers considered five categories of environmental impacts. These categories included water depletion, energy depletion, aquatic eutrophication, acidification, and global warming. They computed the global warming potential according to CO2 comparable factors of IPCC. To calculate the AP of diverse trace gases, the researchers used SO2 comparable factors. Moreover, they used phosphate equivalent factors to calculate AEP. Furthermore, the researchers used the globe per-capita environmental impact potentials in 2000 to calculate environmental indices and normalize environmental impacts of the system of rice production (Wang et al., 158). In their study, Mingxin, Qianjin, Xunfeng, and Jianguo used an expert panel for weight determination.
In contrast, Busto and Blengini in their study carried out the LCA model by including three white milled rice chain sub-systems including the processes of agriculture, drying and storing, and finally refining and packaging. They selected one kilogram of the refined rice packed as well as delivered to the supermarket as the functional unit of their study. They obtained data from various sources including interviews with the agronomists, technicians, and farmers, on site records, and literature from Vercelli district and international literature. In terms of inventory analysis, the researchers modeled paddy field bank management through adapting ploughing from Ecoinvent database and considering the average annual working hours (Blengini and Busto, 1515). They estimated standard mix of fertilizers using personal and data communications from the rice farms. In addition, they modeled the commercial pesticides according to inventory data originating from Ecoinvent and active ingredients. In terms of irrigation, the researchers considered an average value of between 15 000- 40 000 cubic meters per hectare and a 28 percent water re-usage. Therefore, in their LCA model, the researchers used a value of 19 800 cubic meters per hectare.
In terms of field emissions, the researchers used Regional greenhouse gas inventory data that reports data on CH4 emission from Vercelli paddy fields. They used a value of 48 grams of methane per kilogram of paddy rice in their LCA model. They also used a value of 0.2 grams of N2O emission per kilogram of paddy rice. Concerning the ammonia emissions, the researchers used a value of 1.14 grams per kilogram of paddy rice (Blengini and Busto, 1516). They calculated phosphorous releases by using the models from Federal Agricultural Research Center. The emission of phosphorus as a result of leaching out to the ground water was 0.084 kilograms per hectare. In addition, the researchers took nitrate emissions to surface and ground water from 0.085kg/kg and 0.021kg/kg respectively. Additionally, the researchers based the model relevant to the organic rice on the data measured from Cascina Canta rice farm as well as the information from CRR Ente Risi.
In their LCA model, the researchers used “solid manure loading and spreading” from the Ecoinvent. They estimated variations in nitrous oxide and methane emissions using IPCC models. In comparison to the traditional method of farming, N2O and CH4 emissions per hectare reduced by 31 percent and 7 percent respectively. Nonetheless, methane emission per kilogram of paddy rice increased by 29 percent. Concerning the upland rice, the researchers made some changes in LCA model due to submersion absence. Pesticide and nitrogen fertilizer use were increased by 20 percent, whereas phosphorous and potassium remained unchanged. N2O emission was increased to 0.29 grams per kilogram of paddy rice and CH4 emissions were decreased to 2 grams per kilogram of paddy rice. The researchers adapted the allocation between co-products after milling and parboiling. They allocated 93 percent of the impact to the parboiled rice.
In their research paper, Mingxin, Qianjin, Xunfeng, and Jianguo found significance of the environmental impacts of rice production followed by water depletion, aquatic eutrophication, energy depletion, acidification, and global warming (Wang et al., 160). They established that the key points to control life cycle environmental impacts of rice are reducing the intensity of nitrogen fertilizer and raising the utilization efficiency which would decrease the consumption of resources and emissions directly in arable farming subsystem and indirectly in upstream production stage. The researchers also concluded that strengthening the management of water and reducing the water discharge in the paddy field are important measures to control the aquatic eutrophication potential (AEP) and acidification potential (AP) besides minimizing phosphorus and nitrogen runoff losses. All these would be vital in decreasing the life cycle environmental impacts of production of rice in Taihu, China.
On the contrary, Busto and Blengini in their research paper found the magnitude of the impact per kilogram of the delivered white milled rice that included a primary consumption of energy of 17.8 MJ, a CO2eq release of 2.9 kilograms, and use of 4.9 cubic meters of water for the purposes of irrigation. Additionally, their study demonstrated that upland and organic farming have the ability to reduce the impact per unit of the cultivated area. Nevertheless, the researchers argue that in the case of the production of upland rice, the environmental benefits per kilogram are reduced greatly and nearly cancelled for the organic rice. They conclude their paper by stating the effectiveness of LCA tool in understanding the eco-profile of the Italian rice (Blengini and Busto, 1521).
Wang, Mingxin, Xunfeng Xia, Qianjin Zhang, and Jianguo Liu. "Life cycle assessment of a rice production system in Taihu region, China." International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology 17.2 (2010): 157-161. Print.
Blengini, Gian A., and Mirko Busto. "The life cycle of rice: LCA of alternative agri-food chain management systems in Vercelli (Italy)." Journal of Environmental Management 90 (2009): 1512-1522. Print.