Willow coppice in intensive agricultural applications to reduce strain on the food-energy-water nexus

David Livingstone, Beatrice M. Smyth, Aoife M. Foley, Simon T. Murray, Gary Lyons, Chris Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


The focus of this study is to show that by understanding the food-energy-water nexus, potential unforeseen negative outcomes can be avoided in the pursuit of sustainable development. To do this, this paper uses a novel approach to compare a combined farm and short rotation coppice willow system, in which the willow was planted as a riparian buffer, with a food-only and an energy only system. The impact of each system was investigated through the lens of the food-energy-water nexus using life cycle assessment techniques. Data from previous research was adapted in order to quantify the impacts for a typical Irish dairy farm, which is indicative of intensive agriculture across Europe. On a typical Irish dairy farm, the implementation of a short rotation coppice willow riparian buffer strip could reduce total nitrogen and phosphorus leachate by 14% and 9% respectively. Total CO2eq emissions could be reduced by 16.5% if energy from the willow displaces fossil fuels, while the impact on milk production and profit is minimal. Thus, the use of short rotation coppice willow as a riparian buffer strip has the potential to reduce strain on the entire food-energy-water nexus. By considering the food-energy-water nexus, the negative impacts of the food-only and energy-only systems were also highlighted.

The paper also shows how a better understanding of the food-energy-water nexus supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and could help ameliorate the impact of climate change on the food-energy-water ecosystem.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105903
JournalBiomass and Bioenergy
Early online date06 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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