Innovation reducing on-farm food waste

On-farm food waste has once again been placed front and centre of our national consciousness with the airing the ABC’s TV series War on Waste. The program highlighted the frustrations farmers have with the current levels of on-farm waste still being experienced within our sector. One estimate of fruit and vegetable waste on Australian farms claimed that 20 to 40 per cent can be rejected before the produce arrives at the supermarket.

While major retailers do impose cosmetic controls on produce, the truth is that consumer expectations remain one reason for our current on-farm waste levels. Consumer perceptions of quality and product freshness being directly correlated to visual appearance lies at the heart of the issue.

One important factor to consider when grappling with on-farm food waste is to understand that farmers in no way deliberately over-produce to create waste – waste is a cost in any manufacturing system and represents an inefficient use of resources. Farm production systems are carefully controlled operations that have been primed to deliver products in line with on-supply contracts and consumer expectations. However, there are still situations where on-farm waste is unavoidable.

Queensland farmers are leading the sector-wide push to reduce waste by driving supply chain innovation to find a market for ‘waste’ products and, by doing so, realising value-add opportunities. Farmers are using produce normally rejected by consumer standards to create products that reimagine and work within the current consumer demand model. These products will easily adapt to future digital and consumer trends, including on-line grocery sales and greater convenience offerings such as pre-measured ingredients and pre-prepared and ‘ready-to-spread’ food products.

A notable example of our farmers embracing these innovative opportunities to reduce waste is Scenic Rim vegetable producers Kalfresh processing ‘waste’ carrots into pre-cut bagged shredded, circle and stick alternatives. The solution took the previous ‘ugly veg’ problem and turned it into a successful value-add opportunity.

On the Far North Queensland Tablelands, banana farmers Rob and Krista Watkins created a product that turned their issue of banana seconds into a range of gluten free green banana flour products through their Natural Evolution range.

In Bundaberg, the DePaoli family addressed the issue of having avocadoes seconds by developing the very first range of cold pressed avocados products. This solution to an issue affecting blemished and bruised avocados was able to turn this unwanted product into a convenient, dependable and ‘ready-to-use’ product that fulfilled customer demand.

These few examples highlight the innovative nature of Queensland agriculture and demonstrate how farmers are embracing opportunities to avoid on-farm waste and improve their bottom line.

The ABC War on Waste program should be commended for highlighting some of waste the issues, and in turn consumers’ expectations around farm produce and products. At the very least, the program should help the public understand the complexity behind our food production systems and the power consumer choices can have in dictating product standards. The Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) will continue to work with industry and government to ensure the regulatory environment exists to foster these opportunities to reduce on-farm food waste. – Stuart Armitage, QFF president