Food waste on farms
Food waste on farms
Guest blog by Ciara Beausang. Ciara is the second year of her PhD at the School of Biosystems and Food Engineering, UCD.
Food waste is a major challenge for sustainability, as it is estimated that one-third of all food produced globally is wasted. Food waste has been in the spotlight in recent times as five major Irish retailers signed Ireland’s Food Waste Charter, which commits them to tackling food waste in the sector. Ireland, along with 200 other countries have committed to halve per capita global food waste by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. There are also significant efforts to reduce household food waste in Ireland through the Stop Food Waste campaign led by the EPA. However, currently very little is known about how much food is wasted at the start of the food supply chain, before it even leaves the farm gate.
Fruit and vegetables have the highest levels of wastage of all foods. Research suggests that levels of food waste on farms may be as high as 20-50 percent . Cosmetic standards set by retailers, specify the colour, shape and size of produce that are sold on supermarket shelves. This is a persistent issue for farmers that leads to perfectly edible produce being graded out on farm. Weather conditions also significantly influence levels of production and hence food waste on farms. For example, farmers may have a bumper crop of broccoli in the summer months, but this is met with reduced orders from retailers as consumers fill their shopping baskets with leafy salads instead. As a result, farmers may have more supply then demand and their produce may simply be ploughed back into the ground.
New research is examining potential uses for food waste arising in agriculture. AgroCycle is a Horizon 2020 funded European Project led by the School of Biosystems and Food Engineering at University College Dublin. The project aims to find new innovative pathways for using unavoidable agri-food waste. My current research involves interviewing growers who are producing fruits and vegetables in North Country Dublin, to estimate how much produce does not enter the food supply chain for human consumption and is instead wasted on farms. The current uses for wasted fruit and vegetables will be investigated and new innovative approaches for using unavoidable agri-food waste will be examined, such as energy recovery and bio-based materials.
Ciara Beausang is the second year of her PhD at the School of Biosystems and Food Engineering, University College Dublin. Previously she completed a BSc in Environmental Plant Biotechnology in University College Cork and MSc in Food Security in the University of Edinburgh.
 Beausang, C., Hall, C. & Toma, T., 2017. Food waste and losses in primary production: Qualitative insights from horticulture. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, 126, 177-185.