Resources for setting up and developing your Gleaning group

2. Food Waste on Farms

To set up your gleaning project, you will need to connect with local farmers. Before you start reaching out to those farmers, it’s useful to gain a basic understanding of why and how food gets wasted on the farm. This will help you identify which farms in your area are likely to have surplus, at which times of year. Having this knowledge will enable you to have a more informed conversation with the farmer, and prepare you to respond to any of their queries. It will also give the farmer reassurance that they are dealing with someone who understands the issues.

Types and causes of farm level food waste

Gluts and Systematic Overproduction

Higher yields in good harvests can result in lower prices, meaning the grower would harvest their crop at a loss. Farmers often over-plant their crop to make sure they do not under-supply their retail / supermarket customers. It is often difficult to sell the ‘surplus’ quantity.

Cosmetic Standards

Fruits and vegetables are often rejected by supermarkets because they are not the ‘right’ size, shape or colour.

Order Cancellations and Changes to Forecasts

It is not uncommon for supermarkets to cancel their orders outright, or significantly decrease the order quantity – leaving farmers with produce they will struggle to sell.

Pick-Your-Own (PYO) Farms

Often at the end of a season, PYO farms experience reduced numbers. Also, extreme weather during summer months can deter customers.

Harvesting Capacity

Farms need teams of workers to harvest and in some instances can struggle to recruit and retain enough staff to bring in the whole crop. Produce may be left unpicked due to a shortage of hands.

Unpredictable Weather

Unseasonal conditions can result in mis-timed crop ripening or sub-standard produce. An example is cherries splitting if they are rained on when ripe. Similarly warmer than seasonal weather can speed up when crops are ready to pick and cause a mismatch between a farm’s supply and orders


Farmers experiment with different crops, without necessarily having a buyer.

Food Waste Fact

UK Farmers are forced to waste 10-16% of their crop annually. The edible waste is often too ugly or the wrong size (Feedback 2018)


Where and when does waste occur?

In the Field

Crops harvested by hand (rather than a machine) that have strict cosmetic specifications are most likely to have high levels of ‘in-field’ waste – this is because the pickers are trained to only harvest the best crops. Machinery can also lead to food waste in-field: for example, small potatoes and onions often fall through the mechanical harvesters.

The Packing Stage

At the packing stage, crops are inspected and sorted according to quality and appearance. This inspection is done by people, analogue equipment or digital scanning, and often results in rejected produce.

The Point of Delivery

Supermarkets often inspect produce upon arrival at their warehouse facility. Whole deliveries are sometimes rejected outright if some of the produce does not meet the supermarket’s quality standards.

Other Stages in Supply Chain

There may be several ‘middle men’ between the farm and the supermarket: packing agents, transport, haulage and warehouse firms. Waste can occur at any of these stages.

Read Next Chapter 3. Farmers & Growers Right Arrow Image
© All Rights Reserved Global Feedback Ltd 2020