Selection and application of agri-environmental indicators to assess potential technologies for nutrient recovery in agriculture
The adverse effects of agriculture and livestock production on the environment are well-known and require mitigation in order to achieve sustainability in the food production chain. This study focused on adverse effects related to biogeochemical flows of phosphorus and nitrogen cycles which natural balances have been greatly disturbed by current practices. To assess the potential benefits and detrimental effects of proposed mitigation measures, adequate impact indicators are required. The
... nge lies in identifying and providing indicators that cover the important aspects of environmental sustainability and allow a direct comparison of policy alternatives. A review of potential indicators that are also consistent with those used to indicate the performance of agricultural and general sustainability (i.e. the European Green Deal) led to the selection of fifteen agrienvironmental indicators covering the main environmental issues in agriculture. The indicators identified offered an effective representation of environmental behaviour and would be useful in communicating a comprehensive 'dashboard' for professional end users of solutions to nutrient recovery and nutrient efficiency improvement in arable and livestock systems. The selected dashboard indicators (DBI) covered the dimensions of 'use of primary resources', 'emissions to the environment' and 'resilience to climate change'. Five case studies were investigated to test the DBI using an Excel questionnaire applying the qualitative approach of the Delphi method together with expert knowledge. As expected, the results indicated that there were potential benefits of the technologies in terms of improved 'nutrient recovery' and decreased 'nitrate leaching'. Potential disadvantages included increased electricity and oil consumption and greater ammonia volatilisation due to the increased use of organic fertilisers. The indicator 'water' received more neutral responses; thus, the specific technology was not expected to consistently affect the indicator. In relation to 'particulate matter', the results were indicated to be 'unknown' for some solutions due to the difficulty of predicting this indicator. Furthermore, methodologies for estimating quantitative values for the dashboard indicators were proposed, and a quantitative assessment was performed for the solution 'catch crops to recover nutrients', confirming the responses in the qualitative assessment. The dashboard indicators selected covered the main aspects of the solutions, identified in more comprehensive studies of environmental impacts, as being suitable for the rapid assessment of technologies for nutrient recovery in agriculture. As such, they can be used as a pre-screening method for technologies designed to improve the environmental sustainability of arable and livestock systems.