A study published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling suggests that approximately one-third of edible California produce is left in the fields to rot. Currently, most food loss and waste research centers on post-harvest, retail, and consumer levels. Researchers from Santa Clara University set out to examine farm-level food loss—crops that are left in the field and not harvested. A portion of this food loss may be left behind in harvested fields because it does not meet market standards or because market prices are too low to justify harvesting. Another segment of this type of food loss is product left behind in fields that are never harvested at all, known as “walk-by” fields.

The researchers worked with 34 midsize to larger growers in central and northern California to conduct in-field, post-harvest measurements of produce remaining in the field for 20 crops in 123 fields during the summers of 2016 and 2017. They surveyed crops with a variety of characteristics, focusing on those crops that they believed had the highest recovery potential.

They found that there is a large volume of food loss at the farm level amounting to tons per hectare. Across all crops, losses amounted to an average of 31.3% of the marketed yield, representing 11,299 kg/ha of remaining edible product. Total average losses across all 20 crops were 33.7% when walk-by field losses of 2.4% are included.

The researchers noted that most research on field-level losses has relied on interviews and surveys with growers, which may be unreliable. The study revealed that the actual measurements of food loss were approximately two and a half times higher than the growers’ estimates. Additional research and measurements are needed to get a more accurate estimate of food loss that occurs on farms. In addition, the researchers concluded that “research that attempts to better understand the impact of the critical driving forces behind farm-level food loss is needed to support efforts to reduce loss and discover or develop outlets for the vast amount of edible produce that is left in the field.”


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