10 Oct 2017

Developing the Crop Mix Tool

Behind the scenes

We believe that transparency is essential in the development of sustainable agri-food chains, which is why we are more than happy to give you an impression of how we work ‘behind the scenes’ and share some of our insights and experiences with you.

This time we look at the Crop Mix Tool for determining the provenance of agricultural products. Our experience is that it is often difficult to determine where agricultural products are produced. This is important because provenance is an important element in calculating environmental impact, for example for determining water and land use. Using kiwi fruit as an example, we show the value of this tool.

Where do our agricultural products come from?

The provenance of agro-food products is an important variable in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies. In particular, the provenance of an agricultural product can be a major determinant of water use and land use, for example because of regional differences in water shortage and crop yield. This aspect also plays a role in climate change impacts, especially where land use change is concerned.

Unfortunately, determining the provenance of agricultural products is not always an easy task for researchers and database developers. Even multinational food companies are not always sure where their agricultural raw materials come from because of the many intermediaries in the supply chain.

Average mix of countries of origin

Our Crop Mix Tool was built to tackle this problem. The tool calculates the average mix of countries of origin for an agricultural product. It offers different methodological options and generates results for individual countries as well as groups of countries. An advanced functionality is the ability to determine the product mix on a monthly basis. Due to data availability limitations this functionality is currently only available for European countries.

Where do we use the 'Crop Mix Tool' for?

We use the Crop Mix Tool for various LCA projects, such as the database development for the European Commission and the Fruit & Vegetable Calendar for Milieu Centraal. The potential applications of the tool, however, extend far beyond the LCA community.

If you have an interesting application for the Crop Mix Tool for your project we would like to hear from you!

An example: Kiwis in the Netherlands

An interesting example which highlights the value of the Crop Mix Tool is the provenance of kiwis in the Netherlands. If we look at the global production of kiwi fruit, based on the FAO production data for 2009–2013, we see that China dominates the market, accounting for 48% of global production. Other important producers are Italy (15%), New Zealand (14%) and Chile (9%). Many studies take such a distribution as a representative situation for the Netherlands.

Import versus production
However, if we look at the specific data for kiwi imports to the Netherlands and combine this with the production of kiwis in the Netherlands (which is obviously 0) we get a completely different distribution of countries of origin: Belgium (38%), Chile (34%), Italy (12%) and Greece (12%). The problem here is that kiwis imported from Belgium are not produced in Belgium.
Combining data
The Crop Mix Tool solves this problem by taking a phased approach in which the import mix of exporting countries (in this case Belgium) is also calculated. This gives more representative results, because production and import data are combined for both the country in the study and the country of origin. For kiwi fruit, this gives the following import breakdown for the Netherlands: Chile (35%), New Zealand (31%), Italy (19%) and Greece (7%). In most cases this iteration provides a good estimate of the distribution of imports across countries of origin.

More information

Enthusiastic about the Crop Mix Tool? Then contact Lody Kuling for more information.
Email Lody Kuling