The Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development Neiker-Tecnalia, the public body that reports to the Sub-Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Policy of the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community (region), in coordination with the consulting firms HAZI Fundazioa (rural, shoreline and food development) and IK Ingeniería (ecodesign and environmental innovation in products and services), has developed software for horticultural, grape and wine-growing, and sugar beet production that allows the life-cycle of the products and their carbon and water footprint, among other things, to be analysed.Its use will contribute towards improving the sustainability of the agricultural and agri-food sector and well as reducing the environmental impact of production to a minimum.The computing tool is the result of the AGROLCA-Manager project –funded by the European Union’s LIFE programme– and will be presented as part of the international Basque Ecodesign Meeting 2014 event, scheduled to take place in Bilbao on 17 November.
The software resulting from the AGROLCA-Manager project will be made available to users over a web platform and will allow the producer to calculate 15 environmental indicators, including the carbon footprint, the water footprint, the carbon balance and potential ecotoxicity. These indicators can be expressed in accordance with the user’s preferences:per kg of product, per hectare, etc.A whole range of environmental aspects are thus taken into consideration, while particular attention is given to processes like nitrogen leaching —nitrogen loss through rainwater or irrigation— or the applying of phytosanitary products.
The indicators are calculated using the data that the user inputs into the application or else are imported from the electronic field notebook;also incorporated are the legislation applicable to sugar beet, horticultural, and grape and wine-growing production systems plus a series of good management practices.That way, companies can link their environmental results with specific improvement guidelines for each of them bearing in mind their environmental situation and the level of compliance with the legislation in force.One of the advantages of this computing tool is that it can offer data on the potential for eco-innovation of their products.
As an example of its application in the wine sector, the software covers all the phases in the production process: field phase, wine production phase in the wine cellar, and waste management phase.In the field phase the producer can control aspects like pruning, the applying of fertilizers or phytosanitary treatments. In the wine cellar phase it can take into consideration the most important processes in wine production, like the reception of the grapes, alcohol fermentation, ageing in barrels and bottling.That way, wine cellars can improve their processes from the environmental point of view and display their environmental sensibility to the consumer, which provides them with a competitive advantage.
Supporting SMEs in the agri-food sector
The AGROLCA-MANAGERproject has set out to support agri-food enterprises in the primary sector, in particular SMEs, so that they can reduce to a minimum the environmental impact of their products throughout their life cycle.It is also seeking to increase the sustainability and competitiveness of the enterprises thanks to the specialised web platform developed.This environmental software will enable the enterprises to analyse the various phases in the life cycle of their products so that they can improve the management of the resources used in production, which contributes towards reducing waste generation.
The agri-food sector is aware of the need to substantially improve its production systems from the perspective of the effective use of resources and the reduction in possible environmental impacts.Therefore, having available ad hoc software to apply the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methodology is a key tool when it comes to improving the competitiveness of SMEs in the agri-food sector.