Comparing carbon footprints of Canadian vs. international commodity field crop production and transportation, with pedigree matrix adaptations for consistent and transparent high-quality data sourcing

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Poster Number:  V-09 

Main Presenter:    Nicole Bamber 

Co-Authors:   Ian Turner     Nathan Pelletier                                          

Sustainability metrics may provide competitive advantage for commodities such as field crops traded in international markets. However, due to the variability of agronomic climates, management practices, and supply chains, as well as inconsistencies in methods and data, fair comparisons between crops produced in different regions of the world are difficult to make. To enable sourcing of life cycle inventory (LCI) data of the highest quality for rigorous comparisons of the life cycle impacts of field crops produced in multiple countries, we adapted the standard pedigree matrix used in LCA [1] to be purpose-fit to assess the quality of data to be used for crop production systems. Using this pedigree matrix, we selected the best quality LCI data to model the production of canola, soy, durum and non-durum wheat, lentils, and dried peas in Canada, as well as a variety of international competitors including Australia, France, Germany, and the United States (U.S.). Overall, field-level nitrous
oxide emissions, impacted by climate and management practices [2], were the main driver of the carbon footprints for most crop-country combinations. Fertilizer production and fuel use for field operations were also large contributors. We performed the analysis with soil carbon fluxes included and excluded, according to best practices. When soil carbon was included, it often made large positive or negative contributions to the carbon footprint estimates, depending on whether carbon was being sequestered or lost from agricultural soils in each country. The main drivers of differences in soil carbon fluxes were management practices, particularly tillage, as well as climate, and changes in land use for different cropping systems. Canadian crops, particularly from the Prairie Province of Saskatchewan, generally had the lowest carbon footprints of all countries included in the comparison, with the exception of U.S. lentils and Australian canola (without soil carbon). Carbon was mostly
sequestered in Canadian agricultural soils due to the adoption of no-till practices in the Prairie Provinces [2]. We also included the impacts of transportation to market for a subset of crops transported to Europe and Australia, and found that the low production impact of Saskatchewan crops more than offset the impact of transportation in most, but not all, cases. It is generally stated that, in LCA, transportation (by means other than air) contributes only a small proportion to the life cycle impacts [3]. However, our analysis showed that for some low-impact products, such as Canadian field crops, transportation can be an important consideration.

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