Food waste and agriculture contribute considerably to greenhouse gas emissions, making farm and market-level interventions imperative in order to reduce impacts. Together with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Walmart Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund has launched a new research program geared at maximizing crop utilization and edible food recovery.
FFAR and the Walmart Foundation have contributed a total of $1.3 million to the program, which will see WWF work with research teams across the country — including University of California, Davis (UC Davis) and the Global Cold Chain Alliance — to identify opportunities for producers to increase the proportion of crop that are harvested and delivered to the highest value destination.
Eighty percent of the estimated 63 million tons of food lost or wasted annually in the U.S. occurs in consumer-facing businesses and in homes. While less food is lost on farms, the lack of data quantifying this loss in different crops make it difficult to validates estimates, identify drivers and define cost-effective solutions. Throughout the 22-month program, research teams will work to bridge those data gaps and test interventions to maximize crop utilization and profitability on farms.
“Our nation’s producers work hard every harvest to provide food, fuel and fiber to our economy, but they don’t always see the same return on investment,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., Executive Director of FFAR. “This on-farm research will uncover opportunities for growers to do more with the same resources. I look forward to practical results that will bolster bottom lines for farmers and deliver more nutritious food to dinner tables.”
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In the first phase of the program, researchers at UC Davis will work with farmers to gather their input on strategies and opportunities for maximizing crop harvest and use. The research will focus on leafy greens, peaches and tomatoes. UC Davis will also quantify the environmental impacts from seed to harvest for each of these crops.
A team led by the Global Cold Chain Alliance will collect qualitative and quantitative data and organize field studies to estimate on-farm and post-harvest losses and identify the current destinations of produce that never makes it to consumer. Initial research will focus on the harvesting of potatoes in Idaho and Eastern Oregon, tomatoes in Florida, romaine lettuce in Arizona and peaches in New Jersey.
“The best way to feed people without putting more stress on our environment is to increase the availability of food that has already been produced,” said Jason Clay, Senior VP of Markets and Food for WWF. “Each bite that doesn’t reach consumers represents a loss of the natural resources — and money — used to produce it. We’re grateful to the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and Walmart Foundation for supporting research that can help promote more efficient use of land, water, energy and natural resources and deliver more crops to the highest value destinations.”
Researchers will utilize tools such as the Community System Assessment Methodology, Life Cycle Assessment and World Resource Institute’s Food Loss and Waste Standard to ensure consistent reporting across different in-field and supply chain measurement methods and to facilitate collaborative research and interventions.
“We’re proud to support this research to find ways to deliver more crops from field to plate,” said Eileen Hyde, Director for Walmart Giving. “This program aligns with the Walmart Foundation’s philanthropic work to address gaps in the food system upstream to prevent food waste.”