3.6 million tonnes of food goes to waste on UK farms every year, worth £1.2bn, according to the charity WRAP.
To estimate the figures, WRAP analysed 85 studies that reported food wastage rates on farms in countries comparable to the UK in Europe and North America, as they say data specific to the UK is unavailable for many sectors.
Their study covers the moment when a food crop is ready to harvest or when an animal is ready to be slaughtered.
They then assessed surplus and waste arising from processes such as grading, packing and washing – as well as customer rejections.
Sugar beet, potatoes and carrots made up more than half of the overall waste by weight, with the top ten products accounting for 80% of the total weight.
By product type, horticultural crops make up 54% of the total, cereals 30%, livestock 8% and milk 8%.
WRAP has also produced a new online resource for farmers and growers, the Food Surplus Network provides access to a broad range of markets and outlets for surplus food.
Peter Maddox, WRAP director, said: ‘This is the most detailed study of food surplus and waste in primary production undertaken for the UK, and a key finding has been the range of waste across all food categories.
‘This tells us is there is huge potential to reduce the amount of surplus and waste by promoting best practice, and that’s where our work is now focussed. We want to increase the redistribution of surplus food as has happened across the retail sector, and I am pleased this will now be much easier through the Food Surplus Network.’
WRAP’s estimates of the top ten average food waste tonnages on farms and percentages of total food harvested are below:
- Sugar beet – 347,000t: £9m – 3.9%
- Potatoes – 335,000t: £48m – 5.4%
- Carrots – 152,000t: £24m – 15.7%
- Milk – 116,000t: £34m – 0.8%
- Wheat – 93,000t: £26m – 1.3%
- Poultry – 66,000t: £85m – 3.5%
- Onions – 66,000t: £23m – 17.3%
- Oilseed rape – 65,000t: £23m – 3%
- Barley – 30,000t: £11m – 1.3%
- Cabbage – 29,000t: £14m – 13%
Responding to the study, the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) vice president Stuart Roberts said: ‘Farmers do a fantastic job producing food which is safe, traceable and affordable. All farmers and growers work extremely hard to ensure there is as little waste as possible at farm level; that simply makes good business sense.
‘And the farming sector has already taken steps to do more from improving agronomy, harvesting and processing techniques, to using polytunnels to protect soft fruit from weather extremes.
‘At times, the crops produced don’t meet the stringent specifications set by retailers and so farmers have found others markets for these crops to avoid waste such as feeding anaerobic digesters to create green energy or ploughing back in as fertiliser.’