The UK food supply chain could increase efficency and save £30m a year by tackling food waste on farms, according to a report.
The report, Food Waste in Primary Production by non-profit Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), was published as part of the group’s push to highlight the significant financial, environmental and efficiency benefits inherent in tackling food waste in primary production.
WRAP said the first indication of the scale of waste was measured for two key crops—strawberries and lettuce.
It found that just over 9% of mature strawberry crops had ended up as waste in 2015—equivalent to 10,000 tonnes of product across the whole sector and valued at £24m—mainly because they didn’t meet market requirements.
“The main causes for this were linked to product not meeting quality requirements, primarily as a result of fruit being misshapen or suffering from pest or disease-related damage,” it said.
For lettuce, WRAP found that around 19% of all lettuces were unharvested in 2015, with 38,000 tonnes lost across the sector worth an estimated £7m. Both growers and their customers cited weather related damage and head size specifications as the reason for the waste.
Andrew Clark, National Farmers Union (NFU) director of policy, said the key to cutting waste was for the whole farm to fork supply chain to work together to develop practical changes.
“Food waste is in no one’s interest, least of all farmers,” he said.
“The whole industry needs to pull together to identify solutions right across the supply chain and do their bit to keep waste to a minimum.”
WRAP said as a result of the report’s findings, it had started projects to address common issues that arise in production by piloting innovative models and interventions to overcome the difficulties and develop best practice.
David Moon, head of sustainable food at WRAP, said the projects were the result of a roundtable meeting chaired by WRAP in 2016, which included the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the British Retail Consortium, the Fresh Produce Consortium and the NFU.
“We’re using our experience in mapping waste and bringing together key stakeholders to pinpoint where, why and how much waste arises on farms,” he said.
“This work will help the UK food supply chain become more efficient and competitive, which is crucial in the coming years. It is also critical that we have the support and retailers and producers collaborating on projects to develop and share best practice."
Moon added the projects would involve better supply and demand management in lettuce value chains and for strawberries, greater flexibility to enhance supply chain management and consideration of new varieties.
The report comes as WRAP announced a series of sector-wide projects tackling food waste in primary production, which have brought together producers, farmers, growers, hospitality and food service businesses and retailers through the organisation’s Courtauld Commitment 2025.
The companies signed up to the commitment have pledged to reduce food and drink waste in the UK by 20%, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and lower the impact of water use in the supply chain.
Signatories include biscuit manufacturer Burton’s Biscuit Company, dairy processor Dairy Crest and vegetarian food producer Quorn.
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