Why is food wasted at the farm

9% of New Zealand’s biogenic methane emissions and 4% of our total greenhouse gas emissions are from food and organic waste. It’s been estimated that global food waste on farms is around 1.2 billion tonnes per year which amounts to approximately $370 billion USD ($651 billion NZD). However, most of the reasons behind farm-stage waste are out of the growers’ hands.

From travelling from farm to farm and listening to grower gripes, we’ve written down some of the reasons why produce isn’t getting to hungry tummies.

cabbages in the field

High standards of produce appearance

As consumers, believe it or not, we have demanded high standards for produce appearance. These days, we want fruit & veg to look perfect and guaranteeing this creates waste.

Produce is graded by appearance and the normal grading lingo sounds a bit like this: ‘Tag 1’= zero Wonkiness, ‘Tag 2’ = Wonky, ‘Tag 3’ = so Wonky it gets sent straight to the juicing factory.

Big retailers want to sell Tag 1 produce, because it looks better than their competition. Therefore the price of the Tag 2 & Tag 3 produce is driven down. With the rising cost of harvesting, often growers are left with no choice and the lower graded lines are ploughed back into paddocks.

The Weather

If you ask growers what they struggle with the most, it’s the weather. Long periods of rainfall = wet land = difficult growing environment. When produce like parsnips or pumpkin become too wet, it’s can create marks just under the skin. For other veg like silverbeet, if the ground is too wet, it simply can’t be pulled from the ground without being damaged. Too much sun, stunts growth of a lot of veg like broccoli & cauliflower but there is no changing the fact that we’re at the mercy of the weather.

Extreme weather events are also becoming more common is this vicious climate cycle. Throw back to mid c*v*d, in particular boxing day 2020 when Nelson had a freak hail storm, whole apple orchards were wiped out just at harvesting time.

Hail storm on the farm
This picture in particular is after a more recent hailstorm in Levin.​​

Labour Shortage

Thousands of migrants come to New Zealand annually to pick produce. Over lockdown, with borders closed, growers were unable to hire labour to help with harvesting.  Speaking directly to one Wonky Box supplier, we were told of fields of produce being left unpicked after being unable to hire the workforce over winter 2022.

On a positive note, more recently we’ve heard of improvements with the labour shortage and in September 22, the government announced a new RSE scheme that will allow for 3000 more migrant workers to relieve the horticulture sector.

Tractor in field

Increase in fuel & fertiliser

With fuel having increased by over 70% and fertiliser almost tripling, the cost to pluck a parsnip from the ground is often not worth it. As prices continue to escalate, growers want to ensure they’ll get a return on their investment before making the cut.