New research from WRAP, published today, has highlighted the significant financial, environmental and efficiency benefits inherent in tackling food waste in primary production, as it showed that an estimated £30m of UK strawberry and lettuce produce ended up as waste in 2015.
WRAP has also announced a series of sector-wide projects tackling food waste in primary production that have brought together farmers, growers, producers, hospitality & food service businesses and retailers through the organisation’s Courtauld Commitment 2025.
A number of pioneering projects have now begun, focusing on priority crops including soft fruit, root vegetables and salad. Each is addressing common issues that arise in production, and piloting innovative models and interventions to overcome these difficulties. The work will move towards developing guidance and best-practice case studies to help others take action, and expand the working practices more widely.
The projects are the result of a roundtable meeting chaired by WRAP in 2016 that included the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) and the National Farmers Union (NFU).
David Moon, Head of Sustainable Food at WRAP explains: “Tackling food waste in primary production is a key area of Courtauld 2025 and it’s crucial that we have the facts to prioritise and direct action. We’re using our experience in mapping waste and bringing together key stakeholders to pinpoint where, why and how much waste arises on farm. 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 of retailers and producers collaborating on projects to develop and share best practice. It’s an exciting new area of work and we’re delighted to have the support of key sector groups.”
Strawberry & Lettuce Loss
For the two sectors it assessed, strawberries and lettuce, WRAP estimates that £30m ended up as waste in the UK, in 2015 as a result of a complex set of factors relating to forecasting and product specifications, as well as pest and disease damage.
The study estimates that just over nine percent of mature strawberry crops ended up as waste in 2015, equivalent to 10,000 tonnes of product across the whole sector and valued at £24m. 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.
For lettuce, WRAP found that around 19 percent of all lettuces were unharvested in 2015, with 38,000 tonnes lost across the sector worth an estimated £7m. Although weather related impacts will always be challenging, more accurate forecasting by both growers and their customers was cited as the main action to prevent lettuce crops going to waste, together with changes to specifications for head sizes.
In both sectors WRAP found considerable variation between producers – between 3% and 17% of production ended up as waste for strawberries, and 7% to 47% for lettuce. Whilst there is currently uncertainty around what causes this variation, it demonstrates scope to reduce waste by identifying and sharing best practice, and benchmarking different supply chains.
WRAP believes that addressing food waste in primary production requires a combination of different interventions (depending on the sector) and a collaborative approach across the supply chain. This would involve, for example, better supply and demand management in lettuce value chains and, for strawberries, greater flexibility is required to enhance supply chain management, and consideration of new varieties.
And finally, WRAP is also leading a programme to build insights into food waste levels across primary production, and the potential for a UK-wide measure of food waste at this stage of the supply chain. WRAP and the Agrimetrics ‘Big Data’ Centre are collaborating on approaches to improve the understanding of food waste and WRAP will be looking to secure funding to expand this work in the future. This will build on this preliminary work and provide valuable insights into priorities for action such as the types of crops and livestock, and factors leading to waste. It will draw on a range of approaches including data modelling, which can help provide estimates more efficiently than traditional measurement techniques like large-scale in-field assessment.