Farmers never want to see the food they grow wasted, but sometimes crops are left unharvested because of environmental or market conditions, such as cosmetic imperfections, low prices, and labor shortages. There are many ways to help reduce this waste, feed people, and put money in farmers’ pockets.
On-farm storage can help reduce post-harvest loss by giving farmers effective, safe, accessible storage. USDA’s Farm Service Agency offers the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program (FSFL). This program provides low-interest financing to help producers build or upgrade storage facilities. Eligible commodities include grains, hay, renewable biomass commodities, hops, dairy products, unprocessed meat and poultry, aquaculture, and more. Since May 2000, more than 33,000 loans have been issued for on-farm storage, increasing storage capacity by 900 million bushels.
There is potential to reduce food loss and waste by creating value-added products. Value-added products help farmers and ranchers get new customers and keep more of the profits from the commodities they produce. There are several ways to enhance the value of products:
- Processing (turning berries into jam);
- Product physical segregation (separating gluten-free products from other products)
- Non-standard agriculture production (grass-fed beef)
- Local foods marketing (local sweet corn sold at a premium)
- Renewable energy (converting cow manure to methane gas to electricity for the farm)
USDA’s Rural Development offers the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, which helps agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to processing or marketing. This program seeks to generate new products, expand marketing opportunities, and increase producer income.
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) conducts research to develop value-added foods, biobased products; and reduce loss and waste by developing technologies for postharvest processing, packaging, and storage. Learn about ARS research projects under the Product Quality and New Uses National Program.
At ARS’s Western Regional Research Center in Albany, California, scientist Tara McHugh has investigated ways to take food-processing waste and turn it into value-added products, such as fruit bars, vegetable crisps and even edible films made from produce. Learn more about McHugh’s award-winning work.
Produce delivery services
There are many businesses sprouting up across the country that offer consumers weekly or bimonthly boxes of food products that have been sourced directly from local farms. Often, these services purchase ‘ugly’ cosmetically imperfect and/or excess produce from farms that would have otherwise gone to waste. Sometimes these delivery services call themselves CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). Farmers can find CSAs and other potential partners such as farmers markets, food co-ops, and restaurants through Local Harvest, an online directory connecting farmers and communities.
Donations from farms helps to put fresh produce on the table for many Americans. A number of laws and programs are designed to make such donation easier.
The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 exempts “persons” including farmers who make good faith donations of food to nonprofit organizations that feed the hungry from liability for injuries arising from the consumption of the donated food.
For more information, see USDA’s Frequently Asked Questions about the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (PDF, 241 KB).
The federal government provides enhanced tax deductions to businesses (including C-corporations, S-corporations, limited liability corporations (LLCs), partnerships, and sole proprietorships) to encourage donations of fit and wholesome food to qualified nonprofits. The Natural Resources Defense Council offers a one-page A Farmer’s Guide to the Enhanced Federal Tax Deduction for Food Donation (PDF, 63 KB).
Picking and Pack-Out (PPO) Cost
Many food banks reimburse farms that donate produce a few cents per pound in order to cover the farm’s “Picking and Pack-Out (PPO)” costs. Find a food bank near you to see if they are interested in receiving food donations from your farm.
Gleaning is the collection of excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, and other sources to provide it to those in need. Usually, volunteers will partner with a farm to glean excess fresh produce and deliver it to a food bank or food pantry. The Society of St. Andrews works with farmers to coordinate gleaning activities on farms.
Using food scraps as animal feed has a common practice for centuries. It is one of the tiers on the Food Recovery Hierarchy, a guide to help organizations prevent and divert wasted food. Read more about general considerations and government regulations at Leftovers for Livestock: A Legal Guide for Using Excess Food as Animal Feed (PDF, 7.8 MB).
Dr. Jean Buzby
USDA Food Loss and Waste Liaison