Western Canadian grain farmers probably don’t think of themselves as culprits when they hear about food waste.
Huseyin Arslan, president of the Global Pulse Confederation, told the recent 2016 Global Pulse Convention in Cesme, Turkey, that 1.3 billion pounds of food are lost annually around the world.
“We have to be very careful and we have to take under consideration, if we save this (food) we will save a lot of people in the world,” he said.
Value Chain Management International estimates that 10 percent of food waste happens on the farm, attributing to $3.1 billion in losses across Canada.
Most of it occurs on fruit and vegetable farms, but a closer look at grain farming is revealing cracks that cause significant economic loss.
“What people are telling us from the downstream close to the market end is distinctly different to what many farmers think of quality,” said Martin V. Gooch, chief executive officer of Value Chain Management International in Oakville, Ont., who has studied costs throughout the supply value chain.
“That gap in understanding and communication leads to inconsistencies; it leads to waste.”
Gooch and his team found distinct differences in value when individual farmers from the test group were more involved in their operations, from production through to marketing.
“It starts off by measuring things on your farm, measuring performance, measuring the right things and understanding what quality is,” said Gooch.
“Are you storing grain in the best possible way to make sure that storing doesn’t negatively impact quality and therefore value and lead to waste?”
Financial performance on the farm can be improved 10 to 20 percent and up to as high as 40 percent, said Gooch.
“We’re more comfortable and we’re more used to looking at how do we increase productivity and not how do we improve how we handle what we already produce,” he said.
The United Nations and other international groups initiated a global standard to measure food loss and waste during the 2016 Global Green Growth Summit held in Copenhagen, Denmark, June 6-7.
The Food Loss and Waste (FLW) Protocol asks countries to adopt the standard, which will quantify and report food that is removed from the food supply chain.
Al Mussel, an agricultural economist and research lead at Agri-Food Economic Systems, said the UN attention is important.
“We’ve got the full complement of inputs from the supply chain embodied in (food), all the water, fertilizers, seeds, processing activity, et cetera. When you end up not eating it, it’s a real loss to the economy, loss to the environment,” said Mussel.
“I don’t like the term waste. There are losses in the system, so think about ones very tangible to a farmer…. There’s some of the grain that goes (out) the back of the combine.”
Mussel said every process should be looked at in economic value terms. If the product does not get to market, real value is lost as well as the food.
Kai Robertson, who is lead adviser at the World Resources Institute, helped develop the UN protocol.
“The goals for quantifying need to drive why somebody measures, so if the goal of the grain producers is just to prove that nothing goes to landfill, that’s one reason to use the standard,” she said.
“If the goal of the grain farmers is to say how much doesn’t get sold to people, it goes to other destinations, let’s get a handle on that.”
Robertson said funding is a big reason for farmers to begin using the standard.
“I think because of the interest being raised around the world on this topic, that people will start funding … to help farmers and others to reduce their loss and waste,” she said.
Value Chain Management International Inc. said farms that have the lowest waste have higher margins and profits.
Gooch sees food loss not as a criticism but as an opportunity for farmers.
Combines in Canada account for $532 million in economic losses, and that’s without looking at capital investment.
The Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute suggests farmers check for losses every time conditions change. Losing one or two bushels of grain per acre may not sound like a lot, but it can add up.
PAMI also suggests investing in the right bin for the right grain. Temperamental crops such as canola require more diligence.
The standard will be available early next year.