Life-Cycle Assessment in Agricultural Systems

By Rachel F. Greenhut, USDA-ARS; Rex Dufour, NCAT; Alissa M. Kendall, UC Davis; Emma B. Strong, UC Davis; and Kerri L. Steenwerth, USDA ARS


Consumers, and society in general, are becoming more aware of the environmental impacts of our manufacturing and agriculture. This publication introduces an environmental impact analysis tool called Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA can be used to identify and quantify environmental impacts so that they may be more efficiently addressed. The first sections explain how LCA can be used to evaluate agricultural systems, suggesting ways to interpret and apply LCA findings to one’s own farming system. The third discusses LCA applications in farming and gives an overview of a well-known LCA agricultural case study from Sweden that compares organic and conventional milk production. The fourth section describes several recent and ongoing LCA studies for almonds, wine grapes, wine, honey, tomatoes, and corn/bean systems. Useful resources are listed in the appendices.

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