On Farm Food Waste

There was an interesting article posted the other day about on-farm food waste. Go ahead and read it… I’ll wait.


O.K…. We’re back! I think the article raises some very valid points. No matter how conscientious we are as farmers and human beings, the production of our food has an impact on the world around us. As we seek to increase that production to feed a growing population, we will not be  able to allow the impacts to continue to grow at the same rate. We need to get better at this.

Much of the food wasted in this world is lost in the supply chain, or even “post consumer.” More food goes to waste in my refrigerator than gets wasted in the orchard. (At least in relative terms.) I don’t know if I am better or worse than the average consumer, but it feels like I throw out a lot of food.

I don’t think the major breakthroughs in preventing food waste are going to come at the farm level. The study mentioned in the Civil Eats article suggests a range of waste between 1% and 30%. This is a frustratingly large range: Is the problem trivial or catastrophic?

For those keeping track at home, here are some quick insights into food waste at Petty Ranch. About 1% of our avocados are “culls”, not usuable for food. Lemons can have a high percentage that is not sold as fresh fruit, but that quantity, up to 30%, gets used for “products”… everything from lemonade to detergent. Harder to measure are our figs. Birds and other pests may damage or destroy 10% of our crop. (That’s a very rough guess.) On the other hand, we have sold a small quantity of “unmarketable” figs for pickling, and gathered beans, peas, and other crops from our covercrops that are really there to improve the soil. In theory, we could someday have negative waste… more than offsetting crop waste by capturing value in the “byproducts” of our farming operations. I don’t know that we’ll get there.

But I do know that farmers have as big an incentive to avoid waste as anyone.

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