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The Scientific World Journal
Volume 2013, Article ID 472431, 13 pages
Review Article

Conducting an Agricultural Life Cycle Assessment: Challenges and Perspectives

Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University, Box 7625, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA

Received 1 September 2013; Accepted 3 October 2013

Academic Editors: W. Ma and P. Parolin

Copyright © 2013 Kevin R. Caffrey and Matthew W. Veal. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Agriculture is a diverse field that produces a wide array of products vital to society. As global populations continue to grow the competition for natural resources will increase pressure on agricultural production of food, fiber, energy, and various high value by-products. With elevated concerns related to environmental impacts associated with the needs of a growing population, a life cycle assessment (LCA) framework can be used to determine areas of greatest impact and compare reduction strategies for agricultural production systems. The LCA methodology was originally developed for industrial operations but has been expanded to a wider range of fields including agriculture. There are various factors that increase the complexity of determining impacts associated with agricultural production including multiple products from a single system, regional and crop specific management techniques, temporal variations (seasonally and annually), spatial variations (multilocation production of end products), and the large quantity of nonpoint emission sources. The lack of consistent methodology of some impacts that are of major concern to agriculture (e.g., land use and water usage) increases the complexity of this analysis. This paper strives to review some of these issues and give perspective to the LCA practitioner in the field of agriculture.