Improving the efficiency of our food production system (getting more from a smaller land and resource footprint, i.e. using less water, fertilizer, and other inputs) is critical to meeting future food demand, especially recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake for a growing population. It is also necessary to achieve World Wildlife Fund’s mission of conserving natural habitats, as the food system is one of the most pressing threats to biodiversity around the world. The current fruit and vegetable production system, which functions as two primary markets, fresh and processing, experiences loss rates ranging from as low as 2% for processing vegetables to 50% for fresh leafy greens, leaving significant room for improvement.
This analysis examines the volume of a subset of crops in both markets, looks at food loss drivers, compares the two models to recommend opportunities for improvement, and proposes additional research questions for future investigation. By exploring alternative harvesting models (i.e., concurrent harvesting for donation and student harvest crews) this report showcases potential options for rescuing underutilized food currently left in fields that can be enabled through real-time measurement and online food surplus marketplaces. While this report uncovers possible opportunities to reduce in-field loss, such as dynamic processing for the fresh market and the utilization of food hubs, more research is needed to understand if these models are scalable and economically viable and if they will truly address the problem of loss.