Reducing Food Waste on the Farm is Worth the Bother

When it comes to Canada’s $27-billion food waste problem, what’s actionable on your farm? How can you take measures to reduce it…and should you bother?

Martin Gooch thinks so. On behalf of his firm, Value Chain Management International, he’s co-authored a new study, Developing an Industry-Led Approach to Addressing Food Waste in Canada, to try sparking some action on this issue.

His team’s research shows about 10 per cent of the total food waste in Canada occurs on the farm. This, he says, results from such factors as incorrect planting, management and harvesting, over-production, over-feeding, climate change, weather conditions and lack of connectivity downstream to processors and other participants in the value chain.

Some of these problems can be fixed. Some, such as weather conditions,  can’t.

And while that 10 per cent pales to the amount lost in the kitchen – estimated to be more than half of all losses along the value chain – there’s a more devastating figure at play.

Gooch says his research shows 40 per cent of everything farmers produce ends up wasted.

Whoa! If it’s accurate, that’s startling. And there’s no question it would be worth managing.

Gooch says farmers’ lost profits include the cost of inputs that go towards producing food that is wasted along the value chain or discarded. “Farmers are paying for inputs used to grow food that is thrown away,” he says, noting the cost of farm inputs is often out of balance with the revenue generated at the farm gate. “This is a form of waste, too. Ultimately farmers get paid for what gets sold to consumers, not for what gets thrown away.”

It’s an opportune time to address food waste, from both farmers’ and consumers’ perspectives. We’re into what you might call prime food waste season.  Food waste is highly visible as fresh fruit and vegetables come off the fields and orchards, when people typically buy in greater volumes – such as an entire basket of fruit (often at discounted prices) rather than a few pieces — and rarely get to the end before the lot goes bad.

As they dump it in the garbage, they may well end up feeling like someone should have given them more guidance, such as recipes. Or they should have been offered more options, such as smaller-sized packages, even if they’re less economical.

I think people would rather pay more for a smaller quantity, and use it all, than pay less for a larger amount and watch it rot.

Some producers have been ahead of the food-waste, consumer-education curve for years. Others are catching up, as is the industry itself. Advanced storage approaches for some commodities, aimed at longer shelf life, are being researched with support from the Ontario government at the University of Guelph and elsewhere.

Ultimately, those approaches will help.

But with 50-plus per cent of food waste in the value chain being attributed to consumers, there’s still a lot of room from improvement at home, not to mention elsewhere along the value chain.

“This is a multi-billion dollar opportunity for the industry to come together, reduce food waste, improve efficiencies and start capitalizing on what is currently being sent to landfill and composting,” says Gooch.

You can see the full report at


Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy


Wise Words for Sheep Start-Ups — Three Producers Weigh In

Welcome to an occasional series here on Real Agriculture — where we ask three farmers or ranchers four questions about their business, production and next steps. This first column features three Ontario sheep producers (you'll have to ask them if they want to be called shepherds): Colleen Acres, of Maple Meadow Farms at Osgoode; Chris…Read more »




I’ve met Martin Gooch and that picture at the top is not the Martin Gooch I met.


Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.