Intercropping Practices in Mediterranean Mandarin Orchards from an Environmental and Economic Perspective
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Experimental Farm
2.2. Intercropping Practices and Irrigation Treatments
- Control (CTL). Traditional mandarin monoculture, with bare alleys and irrigated to fully satisfy crop evapotranspiration.
- Diversification 1 (D1). Mandarin with intercrop rotation 1 and regulated deficit irrigation. In the alleyways, fava bean (Vicia faba L.) was grown from September to December–February, and a mix (1:3 ratio) of barley/vetch (Hordeum vulgare L./Vicia sativa L.) from January–February to June each year.
- Diversification 2 (D2). Mandarin with intercrop rotation 2 and regulated deficit irrigation. In the alleyways, fava bean (Vicia faba L.) was grown from September 2018 to January 2019, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) from May to July 2019, and cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) from June to September 2020.
2.3. Life Cycle Assessment Methodology
2.3.1. Goal and Scope Definition of the LCA Study
2.3.2. Functional Units
- 1 hectare of cultivated area (1 ha), which enabled the comparison of mandarin monoculture (CTL) and mandarin with intercrops (D1 and D2).
- 1 kg of harvest (mandarin, fava-bean, purslane, cowpea, or barley/vetch), to compare the performance of the same crops in different intercropping strategies.
2.3.3. System Boundaries
- Plantlet production. Farmers in the study area do not graft mandarin trees nor do they produce seeds of the intercrops considered. Therefore, the energy and materials used at the nurseries and for the transport to the fields were accounted for, as in [48,49,50]. In the mandarin nursery, rootstocks and vegetative buds are grown and grafting takes place. For this activity, agricultural machinery, mineral and organic fertilizers, pesticides, and ground cultivation are required. In the case of the purslane plantlets, they are planted manually in seedling growing trays and placed in greenhouses for about 30 days, prior to being moved to the field. In the case of fava-beans, cowpea, and barley/vetch, seeds from local storehouses were used.
- Irrigation subsystem. The following components were considered for the mandarin production: (i) the manufacture and transport of the irrigation infrastructure including head, filters, fertilizer tanks, electro-valves, irrigation programmer, PVC, and PE pipes; (ii) the construction of the shelters for the farm machinery and the fertigation head and the on-farm irrigation reservoir; (iii) the water and energy required for irrigation; and (iv) the extraction, production, and transport of electricity. The same components (i–iv) were considered for the intercrops along with the additional PE pipes and electricity required for the irrigation of the alleyways.
- Production of machinery. This included the manufacture, transport, maintenance, repair, and waste management of the machinery used for field operations of each crop. All the crops required a tractor, tillage implements, and transport trailers. The mandarin crop additionally required an air-blast sprayer and a boom sprayer for pest control and a chipper for pruning.
- Production of pesticides. This included the transport of primary and secondary materials to the production plants, the synthesis of the chemical components, and the waste management and disposal.
- Production of synthetic fertilizers. This covered the manufacturing of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P2O5), and potash (K2O), as well as the packaging and transport of materials to the production plants.
- Field operations. These included tillage, planting, fertigation, harvesting, and transporting for all crops. For the case of mandarin, pruning and chipping were also accounted for. Pesticides were only applied in fava bean and mandarin.
2.3.4. Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) Methodology and Types of Impacts
2.3.5. Data Quality
2.3.7. Life Cycle Inventory Analysis (LCI)
2.3.8. Statistical Analysis
2.3.9. Sensitivity Analysis
2.4. Economic Assessment Methodology
2.4.1. Costs and Revenues
- Fixed costs (FC), invariant with respect to the yield, included yearly costs incurred due to assets depreciation, the start-up costs associated with the initial nonproductive period of the orchard (2 years), and the insurance and taxes paid by the farm. The annual assets depreciation was obtained from the allocation of the initial investment costs over the assets’ lifespan. The investment costs were estimated to be EUR 120,704 for a 10 ha farm with a water reservoir with capacity for 25,000 m3, of which EUR 4185/ha corresponded to soil preparation and plantation and EUR 4290/ha to the drip irrigation system . Extra drip irrigation costs in the case of diversifications D1 and D2 were EUR 63/ha. The lifespan of the orchard was assumed to be 25 years, whilst a specific lifespan was applied to each individual asset.
- Variable costs (VC) were the costs for each growing season, which included fertilizers, water, labor, fuel, and energy, according to the farm operational activities for each system and required inputs (Table S3).
- Opportunity costs (OC) were defined as the foregone benefits due to the implementation of the systems over other feasible economic alternatives. They mainly included renting the land, priced according to the officially published regional data , and the interest from the fixed and variable capital, which was assumed to be 3%.
2.4.2. Statistical Analysis
2.4.3. Sensitivity Analysis
3.1. Environmental Assessment
3.1.1. Impact Indicators
- No significant differences between the CTL and diversifications D1 and D2 were observed in any of the five mid-point impact categories analyzed (Table S7). Only water use was observed to gradually decrease from the CTL to D1 to D2 (3820, 3351, and 3007 m3/ha, respectively), although the differences were not statistically significant, due to the high variability in the data collected in D2. Note that, in D2, the higher variability is related to fact that there was a different intercrop each year, unlike in the CTL and D1.
- Looking at the environmental footprint of the mandarin crop alone, it may seem from the data per ha shown in Figure 3 that the footprint was higher in the CTL. However, this was just an artifact caused by the fact that the production of mandarin was lower when the intercrops were introduced (Figure S1). In fact, the footprint per kg of harvested fruit in the CTL (GW: 0.35 kg CO2 eq/kg) was very similar to both D1 (GW: 0.38 kg CO2 eq/kg) and D2 (GW: 0.38 kg CO2 eq/kg) (Table S8).
- Barley-vetch and fava bean in D1 showed similar levels of impacts in all categories and a significantly lower impact than the mandarin crop with deficit irrigation.
- In contrast with D1, the environmental impacts of intercrops in D2 showed a progressive increase in environmental impacts in the following order: fava bean, purslane, and cowpea, due to the corresponding higher fertilizer needs.
3.1.2. Sensitivity Analysis
3.2. Economic Assessment
3.2.1. Costs and Revenues
- The total costs of diversifications D1 and D2 were very similar and higher than that of the CTL. This was mainly caused by the higher labor needs for harvesting and planting/sowing of intercrops, which caused a significant increase (four-fold) in labor costs with regard to the monocrop. The rest of the variable costs were similar in all three systems (Table S10). The presence of intercrops barely affected the cost of the use of machinery and raw materials, and the implementation of deficit irrigation in D1 and D2 served to compensate the irrigation over-costs of the intercrops.
- The average revenues of the diversifications were lower than those of the monocrop, but considering the high variability of the harvests in the experimental period, the differences were not statistically significant. It is worth noting that in D2, purslane provided higher revenues than the mandarin itself and had lower variability. Fava bean also provided reasonable revenues and moderate variability in the diversifications. Consequently, these intercrops could partially compensate for the reduction in productivity of the main crop. Furthermore, they may help to reduce revenue variability, thereby reducing the economic risk for farmers.
- Overall, albeit not statistically significant, profits were lower in the studied diversifications D1 and D2 than in the mandarin monocrop. However, some intercrops (purslane and fava bean) were observed to be profitable and presented a potential opportunity to increase revenues and to control the interannual volatility of revenue, as presented in the next section.
3.2.2. Sensitivity Analysis
5. Concluding Remarks and Future Research Directions
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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Martin-Gorriz, B.; Zabala, J.A.; Sánchez-Navarro, V.; Gallego-Elvira, B.; Martínez-García, V.; Alcon, F.; Maestre-Valero, J.F. Intercropping Practices in Mediterranean Mandarin Orchards from an Environmental and Economic Perspective. Agriculture 2022, 12, 574. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture12050574
Martin-Gorriz B, Zabala JA, Sánchez-Navarro V, Gallego-Elvira B, Martínez-García V, Alcon F, Maestre-Valero JF. Intercropping Practices in Mediterranean Mandarin Orchards from an Environmental and Economic Perspective. Agriculture. 2022; 12(5):574. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture12050574Chicago/Turabian Style
Martin-Gorriz, Bernardo, José A. Zabala, Virginia Sánchez-Navarro, Belén Gallego-Elvira, Víctor Martínez-García, Francisco Alcon, and José Francisco Maestre-Valero. 2022. "Intercropping Practices in Mediterranean Mandarin Orchards from an Environmental and Economic Perspective" Agriculture 12, no. 5: 574. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture12050574