Resource use and biophysical constraints of Scottish agriculture

Silvio Viglia, Pier Paolo Franzese, Amalia Zucaro, Kirsty L. Blackstock, Keith B. Matthews, Sergio Ulgiati



Agriculture is a fundamental sector of economy and society that ensures food supply, classified by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment among the so-called “provisioning ecosystem services”. Due to the increase of food demand worldwide, farmers are shifting more and more towards intensive agriculture. This trend is connected to the unsustainable consumption of natural resources, most often exceeding the carrying capacity of natural ecosystems. In this paper, the resource use and biophysical constraints of Scottish agriculture were investigated at regional and national levels by means of the Emergy Synthesis method. The study focused on two main agroecosystems: 1) the Cairngorms National Park (CNP) and 2) the national agricultural sector of Scotland as a whole. The evolution of the agricultural sector was explored over time (years 1991, 2001, 2007), accounting for local renewable and non-renewable resources as well as imported resources. Performance and sustainability indicators were then calculated with and without including human labor and economic services (money flows). In the year 2007, the Emergy Yield Ratio (EYR) of the Scottish agricultural sector was about 46% of the same indicator calculated for the CNP (2.65 versus 5.72, respectively). A higher Environmental Loading Ratio (ELR) was calculated for the national sector than for CNP (1.25 versus 1.02, respectively). The Emergy Sustainability Index (ESI) was 2.12 for the national sector and 5.60 for CNP. Such figures were calculated without including the emergy flows supporting labor and services. If the latter are also accounted for, the ESI of the national level and CNP drop by a factor 5.6 and 3.9, respectively. Such variations suggest that larger flows of non-renewable resources strongly affect the environmental performance, increasing the dependence on non-renewable resources supporting the larger economic system in which the agricultural sectors are embedded in.


Scotland; Cairngorms National Park; biophysical accounting; agriculture

Full Text:



Bargigli S. & Ulgiati S., 2003, Emergy and Life-Cycle Assessment of Steel Production in Europe, [in:] M. T. Brown, H. T. Odum, D. Tilley, S. Ulgiati (eds.), EMERGY SYNTHESIS 2. Theory and Applications of the Emergy Methodology, H. T. Odum Center for Environmental Policy, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA, September 2001.

Biondi P., Panaro V. & Pellizzi G., 1989, Le Richieste di Energia del Sistema Agricolo Italiano, CNR, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Progetto Finalizzato Energetica, Sottoprogetto Biomasse ed Agricoltura, Report LB-20, Roma, Italia.

Brown M. T. & Ulgiati S., 1999, Emergy evaluation of the biosphere and natural capital, Ambio 28: 486-493.

Brown M. T. & Ulgiati S., 2001, A Quantitative Method for Determining Carrying Capacity For Economic Investments, International Journal of Population and Environment 22(5): 471-501.

Brown M. T. & Ulgiati S., 2004a, Energy Quality, Emergy, and Transformity: H. T. Odum’s contribution to quantifying and understanding systems, Ecological Modelling 178: 201-213.

Brown M. T. & Ulgiati S., 2004b, Emergy Analysis and Environmental Accounting, [in:] Encyclopedia of Energy, Elsevier, Oxford, UK: 329-354.

Buenfill A. A., 2000, Sustainable Use of Potable Water in Florida: an Emergy Analysis of Water Supply and Treatment Alternatives, [in:] M. T. Brown, S. Brandt- Williams, D. Tilley, S. Ulgiati (eds.), EMERGY SYNTHESIS. Theory and Applications of the Emergy Methodology, H. T. Odum Center for Environmental Policy, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA, September 1999.

FAO, 2000, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Overview, 84.

Franzese P. P., Russo G. F. & Ulgiati S., 2005, Geographical information systems and emergy analysis method to evaluate resource and energy flows in waste management systems, Proceedings of the VII Polish Conference on Energy and Ecology, 19-21 October 2005, Toruń, Poland: 353-367.

Franzese P. P., Russo G. F. & Ulgiati S., 2008, Modeling the interplay of environment, economy and resources in marine protected areas. a case study in Southern Italy, Ecological Questions 10: 91-97.

Franzese P. P., Rydberg T., Russo G. F. & Ulgiati S., 2009, Sustainable biomass production: a comparison between Gross Energy Requirement and Emergy Synthesis methods, Ecological Indicators 9: 959-970.

Gasparatos A., El-Haram M. & Horner M., 2008, Assessing the sustainability of the UK society using thermodynamic concepts: Part 1, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 13: 1074-1081.

IAASTD, 2009, International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, Agriculture at a Crossroads Island Press, Washington, DC.

MEA, 2005, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis, Island Press, Washington, DC.

Odum H. T., 1988, Self organization, transformity and information, Science 242: 1132-1139.

Odum H. T., 1994, Ecological and General Systems, University Press of Colorado, USA.

Odum H. T., 1996, Environmental Accounting: Emergy and Environmental Decision Making, John Wiley and Sons, New York.

Odum H. T., 2000, Handbook of Emergy Evaluation Folio 2: Emergy of Global Processes, Centre for Environmental Policy, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Odum H. T., 2007, Environment, Power and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy, Columbia University Press, USA.

Pimentel D., Hurd L. E., Bellotti A. C., Forster M. J., Oka I. N., Sholes O. D. & Whitman R. J., 1973, Food Production and the Energy Crisis, Science 182: 443-449.

Ulgiati S., Odum H. T. & Bastianoni S., 1993, Emergy Analysis of Italian Agriculture System. The role of Energy Quality and Environmental Inputs, [in:] L. Bonati, U. Cosentino, M. Lasagni, G. Moro, D. Pitea, A. Schiraldi (eds.) Trends in Ecological Physical Chemistry, Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam, the Netherlands: 187-215.

Ulgiati S., Zucaro A. & Franzese P. P., 2008, Matter, Energy and Emergy Assessment in the agricultural sectors of the Campania region. Constrains, bottlenecks and perspectives, [in:] H. Schnitzer, S. Ulgiati (eds.) 6th Biennial International Workshop Advances in Energy Studies, Towards a holistic approach based on science and humanity, Graz University of Technology, Austria: 550-560.

Ulgiati S., Zucaro A. & Franzese P. P., 2010, Shared Wealth or Nobody’s Land? The Worth of Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services, Ecological Economics, in press.

Ulgiati S., Ascione M., Bargigli S., Cherubini F., Franzese P. P., Viglia S. & Zucaro A., 2011, Material, Energy and Environmental Performance of Technological and Social Systems under a Life Cycle Assessment Perspective, Ecological Modelling 222:176-189.

Partnerzy platformy czasopism