Tackling on-farm food waste key to increasing profits by a fifth

A new report from leading sustainability charity, WRAP, reveals farmers could achieve a potential 20% increase in profits by reducing surplus and wasted food.

Field studies conducted by WRAP across a range of products demonstrated that improvements in data and measurement are key to waste reduction. Levels of food surplus and waste on-farm were often higher than expected, with significant variability observed between farms, which suggests potential to improve performance within existing practices.

Financial analysis of five classic British foods showed the following potential profit gains if all farmers achieved best in class performance:

  • Carrots – 33%
  • Eggs – 24%
  • Potatoes – 23%
  • Strawberries – 19%
  • Apples – 15%

Key findings from WRAP’s work:

  • Engaging the whole supply chain is fundamental. Factors elsewhere in the supply chain, such as lack of viable secondary markets, customer specifications, and supply and demand imbalances were identified as major drivers of surplus and waste on farm, and many of these cannot be addressed by growers alone.
  • To encourage engagement with the issue, it is important to communicate the benefits to monitoring on-farm, in particular the financial ones.
  • Measurement and data are central to reducing on farm food surplus and waste, and engagement with farmers and sector specialists through field trials such as these helps raise the profile of data collection.
  • There is a need for data collection on a much larger scale and WRAP is working to upskill the sector so they can recreate the success of the pilots.

Tackling waste in primary production is a crucial element of transforming our entire supply chain so that we can build a food system which supports healthy citizens, a healthy economy and a healthy planet, as outlined in July’s National Food Strategy. Reducing food waste, from farm to fork, is imperative to achieving Net Zero – and the goals of COP26 this November.

The work with farmers also showed that collaboration is essential to help them benchmark and learn from each other – and ground-breaking research with Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I and their blackcurrant suppliers to address on-farm food surplus and waste is an excellent example of this.

Approximately 2,000 hectares of blackcurrants are grown in the UK and 90% of the crop goes directly to Ribena. In a study conducted in July 2020, WRAP worked with Ribena’s blackcurrant growers to unearth practical ways of measuring waste pre-farm gate and find opportunities to reduce it.

Blackcurrants are machine-harvested but in-field losses from this process had not previously been quantified for modern varieties of harvesters – the research aimed to address this. A week prior to harvest, growers used sheeting to collect and weigh berries which fell prematurely. After the harvester had travelled through, berries remaining on the blackcurrant bushes or on the ground were also weighed.

The results showed that most waste arises specifically at the point of harvest, with berries left on the bush or on the ground. Overall, data collection indicated much higher levels of waste than previously estimated, underlining the power of food waste measurement.

The blackcurrant growers are now assessing the efficacy of the harvesting machinery, exploring ways to ensure optimal machine design, operation and speed.

A new video illustrates WRAP’s collaboration with Ribena, filmed on location and featuring head blackcurrant grower, Rosie Begg from Gorgate Farm, Norfolk. View it here.

This case study illustrates that gathering evidence helps businesses take targeted action to combat food surplus and waste on farms. WRAP’s resources help farmers, growers and farm advisors to deliver on-farm food surplus and waste measurement and reduction and ultimately increased profits.

Will McManus – Sector Specialist at WRAP: “The financial analysis highlights that measuring food surplus and waste on-farms provides important business benefits. After two years of collaboration with farmers and growers, we have a robust approach for supporting measurement. Now we really need businesses and policy makers to back this approach and help upskill the sector as a whole.”

Harriet Prosser, Blackcurrant Agronomist for Ribena at Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I: “As a business Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I is always working to tackle waste and work more sustainably as part of our Growing for Good company vision.  It is my role to support our contracted blackcurrant growers for Ribena and promote best practice. This project was a great opportunity to explore losses at harvest, and support growers to identify areas for improvement.”

Rosie Begg, Blackcurrant Grower at Gorgate Farm, Norfolk: “WRAP has been so helpful linking us up with other blackcurrant growers and helping to design the experiments for this investigation.  We were really surprised by the results, we felt harvest losses were minimal, so this project has really focused the mind and helped us to target those key losses and direct ongoing research.”

Ben Elliot, Government Food Waste and Surplus Champion: “This illuminating research shows that food waste not only harms our environment but is also bad for business. It is abundantly clear that we must look across the entire food chain to reduce surplus and wasted food – from the farmyard to the kitchen – to build a prosperous and sustainable food system.”

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