SLU news

The environmental performance of Swedish food production

Published: 15 October 2018

In a new Master’s thesis, Danira Behaderovic has analysed agri-environmental indicators on the environmental performance of Swedish food production.

In the European Union 43.5% of the land area is used for agricultural purposes, providing food, feed and fiber for the population, but also causing detrimental environmental impact.

– Agri-environmental indicators, or AEIs, are used to measure and communicate environmental performance of agriculture, as well as serve as important tools to develop and evaluate progress of agri-environmental policy and measures, says Danira Behaderovic.

Describing the performance of Swedish Food production

In her Master thesis, Danira has analysed agri-environmental indicators to describe the present environmental performance of Swedish food production.

In comparison to other countries, Sweden has a high environmental performance in greenhouse gas emissions, gross nutrient balance, nutrient leaching, ammonia emissions and pesticide use, when expressed in kg/ha. The performance for the indicators nitrate pollution of groundwater and agricultural water use was also high (above average). The performance was low (below average) when NH3 emission was expressed in mass units (kg/ton), for beef meat.

Average performance for soil erosion and NH3 emissions

The performance was average for the indicators soil erosion, nutrient leaching, GHG and NH3 emissions (pig, poultry and milk) were expressed in mass units (kg/kg).

– The overall high performance of Swedish food production is mainly explained by low nutrient inputs and low livestock densities in Sweden, compared to the other countries in this study, says Danira.

Using mass based or land based measurements can make a great difference

Driving force and pressure indicators do not always manage to predict environmental performance. For example, a high use of mineral fertilizers or a high gross nutrient balance does not necessarily mean that nutrient leaching is correspondently high. Natural conditions (soil type and precipitation) are likely a part of the explanation. The functional unit had great impact on the results, when the functional unit was mass based (kg), instead of land based (ha), countries with intensive production (high Animal-or Plant-Protein production per ha) were favored.

– When using mass based indicators (kg), the total environmental impact might still be high, even if the indicator result indicates low impact, thus mass based indicators should not be used alone if the aim is to describe total environmental impact, concludes Danira.

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