Plant biostimulants have gained great interest from the agrochemical industry and farmers because of their ability to enhance nutrient use efficiency and increase abiotic stress tolerance in crop production. However, despite the considerable potential of biostimulants for the sustainable development of the agricultural sector, the environmental evaluation of the application of biostimulants is still missing. Hence, this is the first study that focuses on the environmental assessment of the biostimulant action of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Glomus intraradices
and vegetal-derived protein hydrolysate on two greenhouse vegetable crops, spinach and zucchini squash, under different fertilization regimes. The life cycle assessment from a cradle to gate perspective, which covers all processes related to crop cultivation up to harvest, was carried out to calculate the carbon footprint of the production chain for these two crops. The results of the comparative analysis revealed that the CO2
equivalent emissions of both crops were reduced due to the biostimulant applications. In particular, the effect of the mycorrhization on the reduction of carbon emissions compared to the un-mycorrhized control was higher in zucchini plants under organic fertilization (12%) than under mineral fertilization (7%). In addition, organic fertilization increased the total carbon footprint of zucchini (52%) compared with mineral fertilization. The results also showed that an increase of nitrogen fertilization from 15 to 45 kg N ha−1
in spinach production enhanced the total CO2
emissions per ton of harvested leaves in comparison with treatments that involved the foliar applications of protein hydrolysate together with a lower nitrogen input; this increase was 4% compared to the unfertilized treatment with application of biostimulant. This study can support decision-making in terms of agronomic technique choices in line with sustainable development of vegetable crop production.
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