Reducing the time-dependent climate impact of intensive agriculture with strategically positioned short rotation coppice willow

David Livingstone*, Beatrice M. Smyth*, Rachel Cassidy, Simon T. Murray, Gary A. Lyons, Aoife M. Foley, Christopher R. Johnston

*Corresponding author for this work

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In this study the implementation of a short rotation coppice willow system, planted as a riparian buffer in an intensive agricultural setting, to intercept and reduce nutrient losses, was investigated. The aim of the work was to assess how such a system could reduce the overall climate impact of an intensive agricultural setting. A life cycle assessment was carried out for a combined Irish dairy farm and willow buffer system considering the impact category, climate impact. The climate impact was considering using the time-dependent climate impact metric, with the results given in terms of the impact on the global surface temperature. The results were compared to an Irish dairy farm in which no willow was planted. Such a system has not previously been investigated in this way and this was the first time-dependent climate impact assessment of a willow plantation planted on pastureland. Geographic information systems software, was used to map areas particularly susceptible to agricultural run-off and suitable for willow planting, using the land bank of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute research farm in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland, for the case study. The harvested willow was assumed to be combusted in a combined heat and power plant. By implementing the willow system the time-dependent climate impact of an Irish dairy farm could be reduced by 8% with only 3.7% of the land used for willow cultivation over a 101-year study period. The results also found an immediate reduction in climate impact following the implementation of the willow system. Total GHG emissions were reduced by 131 Mg CO2eq ha−1 over the study timeframe. The results can be more broadly applied to other agricultural sectors, such as arable farming where the climate impact savings of the willow system could be even higher.

Original languageEnglish
Article number137936
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date06 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2023


  • SRC Willow
  • sustainability
  • LCA
  • Climate Impact
  • Dairy farming
  • Bioenergy Buffers

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