Project review: 2013 study investigating costs and opportunities around vegetable waste
Over 1,400 levy-funded reports, tools and fact sheets are stored on the InfoVeg database, making it a great knowledge bank about any issue that affects the Australian vegetable industry.
This week, we’re taking a look back at a desktop study that investigated ways of reducing vegetable waste, from turning it into nutraceuticals to using it for on-farm electricity generation using biogas.
Published in 2013, this levy-funded project was delivered by Applied Horticultural Research and assessed the amount of vegetable waste created in Australia. While many studies focus on consumer waste (such as throwing away food), this study took a farm-first approach by assessing a wide range of factors that contribute to waste, like non-harvested parts of plants, product that doesn’t meet retailer specifications and product abandoned before harvest due to low market prices.
The results of the project suggested that over 277,000 tonnes of vegetable waste (representing around 25 per cent of production) was wasted each year in the period leading up to 2013, with most of this waste due to failure to meet retail quality specifications.
This otherwise-edible product was (and continues to be) usually dumped, used for stock feed or rotary hoed back into the soil, with an estimated cost to growers of around $155 million every year (even taking into account savings from reduced harvest and packing requirements, or the green manure value of crops ploughed into the ground).
To help quantify the impact of the issue, the project went even further in-depth to identify the causes and effects of waste for major crop lines – such as looking at the proportions of cauliflower crops that are rejected at packing, rejected at harvest, not harvested at all or die in the field.
After assessing these causes and effects, the project team made recommendations about alternative uses for vegetable crop waste, including producing insects such as mealworm or black soldier fly as high protein ingredients in feeds for aquaculture.