An assessment of the energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions in sugar beet (Beta vulgaris) production in the UK
Reducing the energy derived from fossil fuels within agricultural systems has important implications for decreasing atmospheric emissions of greenhouse gases, thus assisting the arrest of global warming. The identification of crop production methods that maximise energy efficiency and minimise greenhouse gas emissions is vital. Sugar beet is grown in a variety of locations and under a variety of agronomic conditions within the UK. This study identified thirteen production scenarios, representative of over 90% of the UK beet crop, which included five soil types, nine fertiliser regimes and nine crop protection strategies. The fossil energy input, the overall energy efficiency and the global warming potential (GWP) of each production scenario was assessed. This study did not consider the processing of the beet to extract sugar. The overall energy input of the UK beet crop ranges between 15.72 and 25.94 GJ/ha. It produces between 7.3 and 15.0 times as much energy in dry matter at the sugar factory gate as consumed in its production, with an average ratio of 9.7. It has an average GWP of 0.024 eq. t CO2 per tonne of clean beet harvested, equivalent to 0.0062 eq. t CO2 per GJ output. The energy input into each scenario was dictated largely by the energy associated with crop nutrition. The smallest energy inputs per hectare were to crops grown under organic conditions or conventional crops grown on fertile soils (clay loam, silt or peat) or sand soil with broiler manure applied. Those crops with the greatest energy input were grown on sand soil that was irrigated and had mineral fertiliser applied. Although the organic scenario grown on sandy loam soil had one of the smallest energy inputs per hectare, the low yield meant that the energy input was similar per tonne of beet harvested to the conventional crops grown on sandy loam soil. The extra distance travelled by organic beet from the farm to the factory increased the energy input per tonne above that of the conventional scenarios. The GWP was smallest for the conventional crops on the fertile peat and silt soils and greatest on the irrigated sand soils and the sandy loam soils. The organic scenario had a similar GWP to the conventional scenarios on sandy loam to the farm gate, although the greater diesel requirement for transport increased the GWP overall. The GWP per GJ of output for sugar beet in England is similar to published values for wheat.