The European Commission estimates that by 2050 the agriculture sector could account for a third of EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Climate policy must reflect this, including GHG emissions from processing agricultural residues (e.g. citrus and rice), and producing goat milk on livestock farms.
Pruning waste from citrus trees is currently burned or incorporated into soil (“green crushing”). Burning releases large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), as well as CO, N2O, NOx and particle emissions. Green crushing entails the fixation in soil of about 20-35% of the carbon in pruning wastes, and the remaining 65-80% is emitted into the atmosphere as CO2 and CH4. It is estimated that GHG emissions due to the elimination of pruning waste from citrus trees amount to about 1 200 000 tCO2 eq/year.
Regarding rice straw, this waste is traditionally eliminated through controlled burning, releasing into the atmosphere large amounts of CO2, CO, CH4, NOx, SOx, dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and particles. Aid schemes linked to agri-environment measures in the Common Agricultural Policy are conditioned on the banning of this practice. Therefore, the regional authorities of Valencia recommended that this waste is directly incorporated into the soil. However, this alternative practice increases the content of organic matter in soil, causing additional emissions of CH4. Therefore, Valencian growers are still asking for permits for the burning of rice straw. Emissions linked to this practice are about 650 000 tCO2 eq/year in Spain. Finally, goat rearing in France, Spain and Greece accounts for 24%, 18% and 16% of goat milk production in Europe, respectively. It is estimated that every goat generates 115.6 kgCO2eq/year, while GHG emissions associated with goat rearing amount to about 300 000 tCO2eq/year in Spain alone.
The LowCarbon Feed project aimed to implement new low-emission methods and innovative practices in agriculture and farming, in order to perform an effective recovery of agricultural waste from citrus and rice production, as an alternative to incineration. The aim was to convert this recovered waste into a new animal feed capable of reducing methane emissions in ruminants, so reducing GHG emissions and mitigating climate change in agriculture, specifically from goat farming.
The LowCarbon Feed beneficiaries developed two new feeds for ruminants based on citrus pruning waste and rice straw: (i) LCFeed, a climate-friendly formula for a complete goat diet; and (ii) LCCitrus, an ingredient for goat feed. The main characteristic of these feeds is that they result in between 8% and 22% reduction of GHG emissions in the digestion process of goats. Moreover, since they are produced from agricultural waste, the new valorisation process avoids their elimination by burning, thus significantly reducing the GHG emissions from their combustion. The project team successfully promoted the feeds, and one of the products (LCCitrus) is expected to be on the market in 2021.
A major achievement was the formulation of the innovative feeds, along with the proved results obtained from the goat tests, the impact on local/regional policies, and the efforts made to replicate the approach.
The project resulted in the recovery of 69.43 tonnes of citrus waste and 18.73 tonnes of rice straw for conversion into feed. This reduced GHG emissions by the equivalent of 161 tonnes CO2; while the use of the two new foods reduced GHG emissions in the digestion process of goats by between 8% and 22%. LCFeed pellets were based on citrus pruning waste and rice straw, and the complementary feed LCCitrus pellets from citrus leaves. They were testing on several goat farms. Viable business plans were developed, taking into account citrus pruning and rice straw collection and processing, and sustainability plans were also developed for the two innovative products. Seven agreements and/or letters of interest were obtained from Valencian citrus fruit cooperatives for the supply of citrus prunings to a processing company. A contract was agreed between the Onda citrus cooperative and the company Agroplus SL, and a plant is under construction to commercialise the LCCitrus product.
Project publications included a Citrus Waste Management Plan for the municipality of La Vall d'Uixó, and a Rice Straw Waste Management Plan for the municipality of Valencia. The project partners also produced a proposal for the modification of the Valencian Rural Development Plan (PDR) on Agri-environmental aid in the Valencian Community. The project team conducted a successful dissemination campaign that reached over 11 million listeners, viewers and readers of various media outcomes.
The two new profitable added-value chains were based on circular economy principles, aligned with EU policy, while also contributing to climate policy objectives. The management plans are powerful tools to improve local policies on the burning of agricultural waste in fields. For example, in the case of rice straw, Valencia City defined and approved a new local plan to facilitate the removal of rice straw from fields for its use as a raw material.
The project's socio-economic impact was assessed using social return on investment (SROI) analysis. For LCCitrus, every €100 invested generated a social and environmental value equivalent to €232; while for LCFeed every €100 invested generated a value equivalent to €295. The impact in terms of rural jobs created after-LIFE was 4.5 jobs for LCCitrus and 5.5 jobs for LCFeed. The estimated economic benefit of LCCitrus, for production of 3 721 tonnes/year, was a profitable Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 22.78% with a four-year payback. For LCFeed, given 7 442 tonnes/year, it was a profitable IRR of 23.42%, also with a payback of four years.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).