The mechanization of farming operation plays an important role in improving the profitability of the agricultural sector by increasing work productivity and reducing production costs. However, the new challenges of agriculture also include the environmental issues. The choice between different alternatives to perform a determined agricultural practice should be based on reliable information, considering technical, economic and environmental aspects. Olive growing represents the most important agricultural production in the Mediterranean Basin and its mechanization, particularly harvesting, could have major impacts on the sustainability of this production. This study aims at assessing various olive-harvesting scenarios, while considering technical, economic and environmental aspects in order to build a beta version of the “olive-harvesting database”. The proposed methodology called “modular approach” could represent a useful tool to apply in unitary process assessment in order to obtain a comprehensive database of the diverse agricultural operations. The methodology was based on Life Cycle Assessment and production cost analysis. Technical performance evaluation showed that the recorded work capacities varied between 5 tons of harvested olives per day when employing mechanical harvest aids and 18 tons per day when employing trunk shakers. The economic evaluation highlighted that the harvesting costs are variable as a function of the given cost type (costs per hour, costs per kg of harvested olives and costs per hectare). The LCA revealed that mechanically aided techniques were the most sustainable ones when the functional unit is considered as one harvesting hour, although this FU is not the most suitable unit for choosing the best environmental solution. The surface and production mass units are more appropriate FUs in comparative studies, although they are strictly linked to the “work capacity”. A significant variation in the environmental performances depended on the FUs and on the average yields when the FU represented one kg of harvested olives.
Science of the Total Environment – Elsevier
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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