Today’s entry is the last in a three-part series looking at using data to reduce food waste. In my April 11 blog, I talked about using smaller utensils to reduce food waste at home. The following week I talked about government-sponsored pilot programs of using to-go bags for leftovers in restaurants. Today I want to look at food waste that occurs in the first part of the food production cycle and how to use data to reduce it.
According to ReFed, the United States spends $218 billion each year growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that will never be eaten. They also estimate approximately 10 million tons of food are wasted on farms. Even though farmers don’t waste as much as consumers, they stand a lot to gain by reducing their waste.
Three causes of food loss on farms cited by the Food Policy Research Center at the University of Minnesota include: overplanting of crops to guarantee supply, edible crops left in the field and inefficiencies in harvest, storage and distribution. I want to dive into innovative approaches to food storage to see if there are any data of what’s working in this part of the food supply chain.
An example of cold storage that’s reducing waste is discussed in a 2014 Dutch paper. Mueller, a company that develops cooling systems and other businesses have paired with farmers to develop a small milk cooling unit that is solar-powered. The units enable small-scale dairy farmers, mainly women, to sell fresh milk. As fresh milk is priced higher, the women earn more income and as such the cooling units support food security. Could this type of technology be applied large-scale to store other crops and if so, what would the cost be to enable this type of infrastructure? How would this technology be deployed to smaller farms if they wanted it?
Calcom Solar is already providing these type of large-scale solar solutions to increase the life of crops. New laws in California this year are also helping increase the return on investment for farmers that use solar power. Woolf Farming and Processing estimates a savings of $345,000 in the first year alone and will generate enough clean energy to power 138 homes. I’d love to see this data validated independently but it’s a very promising start to being able to store crops longer and reduce food waste on the farm.