In 2012, an eye-opening report was published by the NRDC entitled Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. Before this report was released, no one really had any idea about food waste, and discussions soon began at a federal level about food waste solutions to cut this figure in half by 2030. With nearly half of America’s food being wasted and further increases to food waste due to COVID-19, finding practical solutions to combat agricultural food waste is critical – for the sake of feeding our population as well as decreasing emissions and helping the economy.
Creative Food Waste Solutions that Work
Crop Damage Due to Weather, Disease, and Pests
It’s an accepted fact that some of the produce on a farm will be lost due to environmental factors as well as damage from pests and disease. However, keeping this percentage to a minimum helps to cut down food waste as well as save on capital costs.
- Environmental Factors
Natural disasters such as floods, droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires are on the increase in California and are only predicted to worsen due to climate change. Whereas pests might eat the plants on the edge, a wildfire, flood, or cold snap could do away with the entire harvest.
Food waste solutions for environmental damage need to get more creative as the complexity of the challenges facing California’s growers increases. As a starting point, design your farm to handle extreme weather events by building catchment dams and swales, non-flammable fire breaks, windbreaks, and hedgerows, and create microclimates and protected areas by planting larger species around your most valuable crops.
- Biological Factors
Diseases in plants are often the result of sub-par soil that’s low in nutrients or is minerally imbalanced. Improve your soil with the use of cover crops, crop rotation, and organic matter to help to provide the building blocks for a healthy harvest that’s resistant to many kinds of disease.
You grow your produce for your customers – not for the bugs and slugs – and no consumer wants to purchase a sack of potatoes that’s full of worms. Food waste solutions for produce spoiled by critters focus mostly on prevention, with companion planting, chicken tractors, and non-toxic pesticides being three of the most popular sustainable options for saving your crop.
Oversupply due to Drops in Customer Demand
In a normal year, a small amount of agricultural food waste can happen when growers plan to lose some of their harvest due to disease, bugs, and the weather. However, school closures and economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic are causing consumer demand to drop much lower than usual.
In lieu of the usual selling channels, food waste solutions for a crisis like COVID-19 include federal nutrition assistance programs like SNAP, WIC, Double Up Food Bucks, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and other similar initiatives. Get in touch with your local USDA state office to find out which programs are available in your area.
- Community Supported Agriculture
Alternatively, some growers are pre-planning their harvests with buyers through a Community Supported Agriculture model. In this kind of purchase model, buyers pay their “share” ahead of the season to provide for the costs of sowing and planting. The grower then provides a weekly box of mixed produce to the buyers according to the size of their share and losses are shared between all of the members. To reduce the end-user component of agricultural food waste, you could also offer buyers the chance to drop off their home compost for a small discount on the price of their share. This creates food waste solutions not only at the domestic level but also provides organic matter for you!
Market Prices Fall Below the Cost of Processing
Drops in demand mean drops in prices, and in this situation, you might find yourself operating at a loss. Rather than leaving the produce unharvested (or losing money on sales), consider adopting food waste solutions that bring the consumers closer to you. U-picks and generously-priced farm-door sales allow you to cut out nearly all of the middlemen and reduce agricultural food waste significantly.
Food Safety Scares Resulting in Discarded Produce
The words “salmonella” and “E. Coli” are enough to make most growers shudder, as these nasty little bacteria can lead to widespread recalls and large quantities of unusable produce. Fortunately, food waste solutions like effective water filtration and regular soil and water testing can help to prevent these problems before they begin. After the produce is harvested, invest in well-maintained cool rooms, appropriate transportation, and food-grade fruit wax and product-specific corrugated packaging to prevent further losses due to spoilage and physical damage to produce.
- Composting Spoiled Produce
If it’s already too late and the produce has spoiled, you can put it to good use by making a hot compost pile and creating fertile organic matter for your land or giving the unsellable produce to a nearby livestock or hog farmer – they’ll likely be grateful for the free (and healthy!) animal feed.
Changing Immigration Laws that Lead to Labor Shortages
The last factor that leads to agricultural food waste is that there are simply not enough people that are willing to work as pickers for the wages most growers are willing (and able) to pay. Traditional food waste solutions for agriculture have focused on bringing in temporary workers through the H-2A program. However, increasing amounts of red tape are making that solution less viable.
- Short-Term Labor Solutions
At a local level, students can provide some much-needed help with food waste solutions by providing temporary, seasonal labor. Organic farms can also take advantage of the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program to gain free temporary labor in exchange for organic food and accommodation.
- Long-Term Labor Solutions
To attract skilled help for the longer-term, some growers are turning to creative food waste solutions such as offering generous packages to workers like year-round pay for seasonal help, giving equity shares to key employees, and/or providing opportunities for sub-management in the farm’s operations. Other growers are working on automating their operations with auto-steer technology, robot fruit pickers, and precision agriculture. No matter what your labor needs are, there is usually a way to meet these needs with a little thought and creativity!
Food Waste Solutions for Every Kind of Farm
At Fruit Growers Supply Company, we’ve been helping California’s growers thrive for over 100 years and would love to make you part of our family. Through specialty corrugated packaging, custom solar irrigation systems, postharvest wax, and more, we can help you cut down your agricultural food waste and get more of your produce to market. Contact our friendly customer service team today to find out how we can help!