There are more than 9m hectares of agricultural land in the UK, of which 4.9m hectares are arable and the remainder livestock.6 The agriculture industry produces 59% of the UK’s food needs, with the remaining 41% imported. Food waste in this sector can be divided into two categories:

  1. Livestock Most slurries are returned to land but can contribute significantly to methane generation through their storage. Currently, ABPs are banned from landfill and are turned into a variety of useful products such as edible fats, hides for leather, pet food ingredients, biodiesel and biofuels.
  2. Arable Almost 30% of UK vegetable crops are not harvested, due to them failing to meet exacting standards based on their physical appearance.7 Poor forecasting and planning in the food supply chain also leads to surplus crops being grown. Some fall into the surplus food category and are used in the manufacture of foodstuffs, or animal feed. If no outlet can be found, the remainder is usually ploughed back into the land.
  • Barriers to addressing agricultural waste
    1. The cost and complexity of renewable energy

      While AD has been shown to be effective, capital cost is often a barrier. Furthermore, according to the Renewable Energy Association (REA),8 planning guidance for renewable energy9 could make it more difficult to develop waste treatment sites.

    2. The demands of modern animal feed supply chains

      Moving crop waste further up the food waste hierarchy can be challenging. It is often necessary to dry produce, which can make this more costly than ploughing the material back into the land.

    3. Transportation costs

      There are also logistical and financial challenges to moving crop waste, as fruits and vegetables and livestock are often grown and reared in different regions of the country.

    4. Supply and demand

      Food manufacturers or livestock farmers often require more stable supply than agricultural food surpluses can provide, while livestock farmers require specific nutrients and fats in their feed which may not be met consistently by farm-generated surplus food.

  • Is anything changing?

    Closer collaboration throughout the supply chain is key to minimising waste. So the appointment of a Grocery Code Adjudicator in June 2013 is an important step forward in facilitating improved planning and forecasting.

    Organisations like Feeding the 5000, are all raising awareness of surplus food and empowering communities to work with local farmers and food redistribution charities to recover unwanted crops for human consumption.

    Trade organisations are also running initiatives that support moving agricultural waste further up the hierarchy. Through its ‘war on waste’, the Potato Council is addressing issues throughout the process from planning and improved growing mediums, through to crop processing and storage.

    The Foodchain & Biomass Renewables Association (FABRA) has introduced online training modules to educate abattoir staff on relevant legislation and ways to maximise value by minimising the downgrading of ABPs.

    Steyr Traktoren, a German tractor manufacturer, is also introducing a biogas engine in 2015 that will allow farmers to power their tractor using bio-methane generated by on-site AD-processed slurries.

  • Agricultural waste recommendations
    • Defra to broker an industry-wide commitment between farmers, retailers and Government to avoid food waste caused by ‘imperfection’ and encourage consumers to buy misshapen fruits and vegetables.
    • Further collaboration between the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the AD sector to ensure that the quality of digestate from the AD process guarantees nutrients and organic fraction are returned to the soil.
    • Further support for and development of small-scale, on-farm AD facilities for processing animal manures/slurries with focus on maximising nutrient, energy and heat potential with all installations.
    • Defra, WRAP and the NFU to undertake more detailed research into food waste and the opportunities to find viable outlets for surplus crops, while providing improved financial security for farmers.
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6 Defra 2013: Farming statistics – final crop areas and cattle, sheep and pig populations as at June 2013, England

7 The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) 2013: Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not

8 Renewable Energy Association press release, July 2013: New renewable planning guidance lacking in detail and clarity

9 Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) July 2013: Planning Practice Guidance for renewable and low carbon energy