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Food waste in primary production in the UK – facts, figures and actions

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (known as WRAP), have issued their report entitled ‘Food waste in primary production in the UK’. This report not only contains an “updated estimate for food waste and food surplus in primary production”, but also sets out some resources to assist the sector in reducing waste in the future.

At PKF Francis Clark we act for well over 450 farming businesses so I was interested to read and disseminate information from the report.

Main findings and future plans to improve the estimate

The report provides an estimate of on-farm total food surplus and waste; with food surplus being material that was at risk of becoming waste, but goes instead for redistribution, animal feed, or to become bio-based materials. Some of statistics complied are as follows:

  • Total amount of food surplus and waste is 6 million tonnes per annum, or 7.2% of all food harvested
  • If this wasted and surplus food had been sold at market values, it would have had a value of £1.2 billion. Some small part of this value is recovered through sales for animal feed
  • The total figure is split as follows:
    • waste – 1.6 million tonnes per annum, or 3.2% of all food harvested
    • surplus – an additional 2.0 million tonnes per annum (4.0% of all food harvested)
  • Food waste when clustered into product types, horticultural crops make up 54% of the total, cereals 30%, livestock 8% and milk 8% (see Table 1 of the report for more product types)

The limitations in the methodology used to estimate the waste are acknowledged in the report and actions to improve the quality of the data are outlined including:

  • Innovative Farmers is the not for profit farmer network delivered by a consortium including LEAF. Innovative Farmers is piloting a farmer-led approach to gathering data on food waste.
  • The Food Waste Reduction Roadmap was developed by the UK food and drink industry in conjunction with WRAP and the IGD to tackle food waste in the UK. The ‘Target Measure Act’ approach is already filtering down to on-farm measurement.
  • Data Sharing Platform is to share and collate data on food loss, waste and surplus in primary production, on a sector-by-sector basis, including context about the quality of the data, variability, crop type and country

Waste reduction

The report finishes by referencing ‘action to tackle waste’ and these include:

AreaInitiative/resource/action
CollaborationsThrough the Courtauld Commitment 2025, WRAP is bringing together food and drink businesses to deliver whole supply chain solutions, including on farm.  Ongoing work has included projects with:

o    Strawberry growers – to demonstrate the business case for investing in more efficient production systems

o    Potato growers – revealed the potential for [act of] measuring waste and performance for identifying opportunities for significant improvements in farm productivity.

Best practice guideWRAP has published best practice guidance on setting and maintaining quality specifications. Farmer feedback often suggests that quality specifications are one of the primary causes of waste, and WRAP supports the sector to embed this guidance in UK supply chains.
NetworksWRAP has published the Food Surplus Network to help smaller businesses and farmers identify the range of opportunities to market surplus produce. This includes a number of new business-to-business online trading platforms, emerging markets for added value products made from waste and a broad range of organisations redistributing surplus to charitable
R&DAmong the private sector initiatives to reduce food waste in primary production is R&D into areas such as variety and breed selection, crop management and livestock husbandry all continue to improve utilisation and reduce waste.

PKF Francis Clark

In reading the above, I am aware that a number of our service areas dovetail with actions to reduce waste. These include:

  • Tax advisory services – including assistance with R&D Tax Credits and Capital Allowance claims
  • Funding searches – for grants, debt and equity to finance investment in capital equipment etc.
  • Financial projections – to underpin a funding application and/or to evaluate the financial impact of actions to reduce waste

In addition, I am aware that our Energy and Infrastructure team are working with a number of farmers and landowners on waste to energy projects; including anaerobic digestion.

Any questions on the above services (or other assistance we can provide to the agriculture sector) please do not hesitate to contact your usual PKF Francis Clark contact or one of our experts in the Agriculture team.

To read the WRAP report in full, please click here.

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