Almost 10 per cent of mature strawberry crops were wasted and 20 per cent of all lettuces were unharvested during 2015, new figures from Wrap have shown.
The two categories were used in a new report by Wrap to monitor food waste in the fresh produce industry. The waste was caused by a complex set of factors relating to forecasting and product specifications, and pest and disease damage, the organisation said.
For strawberries, the main causes of waste were linked to product not meeting quality requirements, primarily as a result of fruit being misshapen or suffering from pest or disease-related damage.
For lettuce, more accurate forecasting by both growers and their customers was cited as the main action to prevent waste, as well as changes to specifications for head sizes.
In both sectors, Wrap found considerable variation between producers – between three and 17 per cent of production ended up as waste for strawberries, and between seven and 47 per cent for lettuce, demonstrating the need for benchmarking and sharing of best practice.
NFU director of policy Andrew Clark said: "Food waste is in no one's interest, least of all farmers. Improved forecasting, for example, would provide farmers and growers with an opportunity to plan ahead, secure land and pre-order seed.
“Retailer product specifications are important and beneficial to maintain produce quality, but these can also be problematic when they are not responsive to seasonal challenges. We welcomed a recent recommendation from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that supermarkets should relax rules and look to normalise foods that may have slightly different colours, shapes or sizes.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, said retailers are in a key position to help reduce waste on farms. “What we don't know is the total volume of waste to cut or the best way to do it, which is why this report is so important and why it will set the agenda for practical changes which will make a real difference to farmers and the environment,” he said.