Environmental benefits of canola production in 2010 compared to 1990: A life cycle perspective


MacWilliam, S., Sanscartier, D., Lemke, R., Wismer, M., Baron, V. (2016). Environmental benefits of canola production in 2010 compared to 1990: A life cycle perspective. Agricultural Systems, [online] 145 106-115. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2016.03.006


The aim of this study was to investigate the changes in environmental performance over time of canola production due to changes to management and production practices on the Canadian prairies. Selected environmental impacts of canola production in 2010 and in 1990 in the Gray, Black, and Dark Brown/Brown soil zones of Western Canada were quantified (1990 analysis was limited to Alberta due to data availability). The life cycle assessment (up to the farm gate) was carried out on a per-tonne-of-canola basis. There were limited differences in impacts across soil zones for the 2010 production system. Differences across soil zones were generally more pronounced for the 1990 production system. The production and use of fertilizers (both production and field emissions) and the use of farm equipment (for tillage, harvest, etc.) were the major contributors, accounting for up to 95% of the environmental impacts of canola production in both time periods. Overall, the environmental impacts of producing one tonne of canola were reduced between the 1990 and 2010 time periods. Over the past two decades, the on-farm fuel use and fertilizer applied per tonne of canola decreased, which led to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved ecosystem quality (acidification being the exception). The improvements in the environmental profile of canola production between 1990 and 2010 were due to a combination of factors, particularly the advances in crop management practices including tillage and large-scale adoption of herbicide tolerant hybrid canola, that have led to increases in average yields and in efficiency of inputs use.

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