Winter cereal:legume intercropping is considered a sustainable arable farming system not only in temperate regions but also in Mediterranean environments. Previous studies have shown that with suitable crop stand composition, high grain yield can be achieved. In this study, a life cycle assessment (LCA) of the influence of sowing ratio and nitrogen (N) fertilization on grain nitrogen yield of oat (Avena sativa
L.) and pea (Pisum sativum
L.) in intercrops was performed to find the optimal design to achieve low environmental impact. This study compared the environmental impact of oat:pea intercrops using agricultural LCA. Monocrops of oat and pea and substitutive intercrops, which were fertilized with different levels of N, were compared. The system boundaries included all the processes from cradle to farm gate. Mass-based (grain N yield) and area-based (land demand for generating the same grain N yield) functional units were used. The results covered the impact categories related to the agricultural LCAs. The ReCiPe 2016 Midpoint and Endpoint characterization model was used for the data expression. According to the results, an unfertilized combination of oat and pea (50%:50%) had the lowest environmental impact in comparison with the other 14 assessed variants and selected impact categories. In the assessed framework, pea monocrops or intensively fertilized oat monocrops can also be considered as alternatives with relatively low impact on the environment. However, an appropriate grain N yield must be reached to balance the environmental impact resulting from the fertilizer inputs. The production and use of fertilizers had the greatest impact on the environment within the impact categories climate change, eutrophication, and ecotoxicity. The results indicated that high fertilizer inputs did not necessarily cause the highest environmental impact. In this respect, the achieved grain N yield level, the choice of allocation approach, the functional unit, and the data expression approach played dominant roles.
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.