14 Aug 2020

Environmental footprint of certified sustainably produced Brazilian soy

Land Use Change and soy production

ProAgros asked Blonk Consultants to prepare an environmental footprint of soybeans grown by a Brazilian soy producing group certified under the Sustainable Farming Assurance Programme (SFAP). The carbon footprint of this soy is 0.27 CO2-eq per kg soybeans, 24% lower than the average carbon footprint of Brazilian soy and even 95% lower than the average carbon footprint of Brazilian soy when the impact of Land Use Change (LUC) is taken into account. The soybeans from the SFAP farmers also score better than the Brazilian average on several other important environmental indicators.



Soy is an important source of protein for animal feed and food products, and demand is rising worldwide. It is an efficient crop that requires few inputs because it can fix atmospheric nitrogen. However, the expansion of soy cultivation is a source of considerable environmental concern. A large proportion of soy cultivation is in tropical regions, where it is a driver of deforestation.


Consequences of Land Use Change

When forests are cleared to make way for agriculture, the carbon stored in the trees is released to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. These emissions – a consequence of LUC – must be accounted for in life cycle analysis (LCA) studies. Guidelines for this are included in the PAS 2050-1 method for calculating the ecological footprint of an agricultural product. Based on national statistics, deforestation is allocated to those crops with a considerable relative increase in area of cultivation. This is determined on the basis of the increase or decrease in arable land and forest in the country in question. The European Commission has made the PAS 2050-1 method mandatory for calculations made under the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) programme.

SFAP sustainability certification

In some countries, such as Brazil, LUC is responsible for the lion’s share of the carbon footprint of soy. The SFAP certificate enables the participating farmers to assure their buyers that in the last 20 years their soy cultivation has not caused any LUC. The individual farmers within this producer group all operate within the Cerrado Biome in Brazil. The producer group consists of 35 individual farmers with a total of 160,000 hectares of land under cultivation. From an analysis of satellite maps, Control Union, a certification body, has determined that of the total area, 86,000 ha has been in production for longer than 20 years and therefore that there has been no LUC or deforestation on this land. For this area a verified SFAP Non-Conversion certificate has been issued.

Blonk Consultants used data from a representative group of 14 individual farmers to carry out the environmental analysis of the soy cultivation of this producer group. The farmers supplied data on aspects such as yields, use of manure and fertilizers, use of pesticides and energy use on the farm. From this input, Blonk Consultants calculated the full environmental footprint of SFAP soy from Brazil.

Low carbon footprint for certified soy

The carbon footprint results are shown in Figure 1. The carbon footprint (excluding LUC) of average Brazilian soy from the Agri-footprint database is included for comparison. The carbon footprint of SFAP soy is lower than that of the average for Brazilian soy, due mainly to the higher yield per hectare and lower use of diesel on the farms. The soy produced by the SFAP farmers also scores better than the Brazilian average for several other important environmental indicators, such as land use (-46%), water use (-37%), freshwater eutrophication (-31%), marine eutrophication (-11%) and acidification (-76%).

Data now available - Branded Dataset

The environmental data on the SFAP soy is now publicly available as a Branded Dataset via the Blonk Tool Portal. The Branded Datasets are supplements to Agri-footprint, the agri-food LCA database.
Whereas Agri-footprint contains averages of agricultural products and animal feeds, Branded Datasets provide insight into the environmental impacts of products of specific brands. The life cycle inventory (LCI) data is available as a.csv file, which can be imported into the SimaPro LCA software. The environmental impacts (calculated with ReCiPe midpoint (H)) are also available in an Excel format.

More information

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Janjoris van Diepen
Team Manager

Questions about the carbon footprint of soy? Get in touch with Janjoris van Diepen.