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Assessing the environmental behavior of alternative fertigation methods in soilless systems: The case of Phaseolus vulgaris with struvite and rhizobia inoculation

Arcas-Pilz, Verónica; Rufí-Salís, Martí; Parada, Felipe; Gabarrell, Xavier; Villalba, Gara

Science of The Total Environment. Volume 770. 20 May 2021. 144744


Urban agriculture, while being a promising solution to increase food sovereignty in cities, can lead to an unprecedented discharge of nutrient and fertilizer-related emissions into the urban environment. Especially relevant are nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), due to their contribution to marine and freshwater eutrophication. Therefore, alternative methods of fertilization need to be put into practice to avoid such impacts to the surrounding environment. Struvite, has been studied as a potential slow releasing fertilizer due to its high P content, while the bacteria rhizobium has been used to fix N directly from the atmosphere. Legumes, like the common bean are N-demanding crops capable of symbiosis with the bacteria rhizobium and have previously shown positive responses to fertilization with struvite. This study aims to analyze the environmental performance of plant production in hydroponic systems combining rhizobium inoculation and struvite (2 g, 5 g, 10 g, 20 g) irrigated with a N and P deficient nutrient solution, using life cycle analysis (LCA). The nutrient content of in- and out-going irrigation was analyzed as well as in plants and beans. The functional unit for the LCA was 1 kg of fresh beans. The results obtained indicate a yield reduction of 60% to 50% in comparison to the control which was irrigated with a full nutrient solution. The impacts from operational stage are less in all impact categories, where most significant reductions up to 69% and 59% are seen in marine-eutrophication and global warming respectively. Although the infrastructure does not change between treatments, its impacts increase due to the lower yields. We determine that below a 10% of the control yield, the alternative systems have more impact than the use of conventional mineral fertilizers in almost all impact categories, thus pointing to the importance of infrastructure to truly reduce environmental impacts for urban agriculture.