How can we design out on-farm food waste?

Last updated: 27 July 2022
Prepared by: Open Food Network Australia
Prepared for: Sustainability Victoria
First published: November 2021

Executive summary

Our ‘Whole Crop Purchasing’ project aims to prevent on-farm food waste by addressing any shortfall that a farmer may be experiencing to sell their seasonal gluts, seconds, or to create new, secure markets for current or forward planning crops. When farms can’t sell all of their produce, farmers lose money, and the resulting food waste contributes to climate change. By facilitating the development of partnerships between farmer and buyer project participants, we are finding new models to reduce waste before the farm-gate, to share risk, and increase farmer viability.

Reducing on-farm waste is often focused on the type of produce or commodity that is going to waste. However we’re finding the defining feature is where farmers are at in their farming life cycle, more so than the type of produce they farm. Farmers that are relatively new to agriculture appear to have a greater openness (both personal interest and farm capacity) to participate in this project.

The early stage of this research has found small to medium sized farmers can be grouped based on their needs or context of ‘whole crop’ purchasing. We’ve come up with personas that represent these key typologies identified. The types of farmers we have identified so far demonstrate how the problem of on-farm food waste can stem from different contexts. It presents varying needs and challenges pending the type of produce, scale of production and timeframes that both farmer and potential buyer/s have to work with in order to prevent the food becoming waste. This report covers best practice global examples of reducing on-farm food waste, through the lens of these farmer typologies.

This project takes a circular economy approach of trying to design out waste, rather than create reactive, end-of-pipe solutions to whole crop harvesting. The main lesson learned from shifting away from ad hoc and opportunistic whole crop purchasing is that strong governance is needed as part of finding new ways of sharing risk and forward planning to reduce on-farm food waste. As part of this project’s experimentation we are trialling different forms of agreements and governance to develop fit-for-purpose governance mechanisms that can be replicated.

Next steps for this project include incorporating these findings into project partnerships between farmers and buyers.

Download the full report