How to reduce farm food waste with insects

March 21, 2022

No matter how efficient the farm, food waste can occur. Insects provide a way to reduce it and can even be used to produce more food.

How much food do farms waste?

According to a recent report by WRAP, food surplus and waste account for 7.2% of all food harvested – an estimated 3.6 million tonnes a year.

If it was sold at farm gate prices, the produce would have a value of £1.2 billion.

Following a rise in production costs and labour shortages, UK farms have been wasting even more of the harvest. NFU estimates that more than £60 million worth of food has gone to waste in the first half of 2022.

This is especially jarring considering that a large portion of our population is now struggling to put food on the table in light of the cost of living crisis.

What is the environmental impact of food waste?

Growing, processing, and transporting food all contribute to climate change. Which is why it is such a shame when all those emissions go to waste.

Once in landfill, food waste emits large amounts of methane – a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than CO2 in its contribution to climate change.

The devastating impact of food waste doesn’t go unnoticed. One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to halve food waste by 2030. In the UK, several supermarkets and food producers have joined this pledge.

How do we reduce farm food waste?

In the ideal world, farmers would use data to optimise harvest volume in line with the demand. They would also have access to world-class crop protection and storage methods. Supermarkets would accept even the wonkiest vegetables. Food would be grown close to where it’s needed to avoid loss during transport. Lastly, there would be no disruption in production costs or access to labour.

WRAP predicts that minimising food waste could result in a 20% potential increase in profits. Unfortunately, a lot of food waste occurs due to factors that cannot be controlled by farmers. Measurement and data really help, and engaging the whole supply chain is critical – but some waste is unavoidable.

But there are ways to link the food we waste with the food we put on the table. Food waste is not waste – it’s an opportunity.

Can we put food waste back into the food chain?

Some farms are already seeing food waste as a substrate, e.g. by converting it into biomass. The surplus crop can be redirected into a digester and converted into biofuels or fertiliser. This solution, however, requires a sizeable investment upfront – but is a good step towards circular economy.

The idea of repurposing waste is crucial to a natural food chain, in which nutrients are constantly upcycled. A rotten apple can be either absorbed by the soil bacteria or eaten by insects. Those insects then become food for other animals.

Inspired by this idea, the insect bioconversion industry aims to manage waste with insects. Working with species such as mealworms or the black soldier fly, they convert food surplus into protein for animal feed and human food.

Can insects reduce food waste?

To insects, our waste is food. They can feed on a range of feedstocks, including fruit, vegetables, grains, and even manure. However, allowed feedstocks are regulated by governments and food standards agencies.

The black soldier fly is one of the most popular species in the insect farming industry. It has a voracious appetite and can grow over 5,000 times its initial body mass in just a couple of weeks. The larvae are full of protein and nutritious amino acids, making them perfect for animal feed.

In our work with Morrisons, we convert their fruit, vegetable, and bakery waste into feed for their free-range hens. By avoiding the methane emissions associated with waste and replacing traditional soy feed, we made the supermarket’s first carbon neutral egg line possible.

Is a zero waste world possible?

It will take decades to step away from the linear economy we created. Waste seems unavoidable within the current systems. Preventing it from occurring in the first place will have a positive impact on our entire food chain.

However, the food waste that we fail to avoid is an opportunity. We can take inspiration from nature on how to deal with it.

How do you plan to reduce food waste on your farm?

At Better Origin, we have perfected the science of converting food waste into high value products – and we have put it to use in collaboration with farmers and supermarkets.

If you think insects could help your business, you can read more about our insect farm or reach out to us for a free assessment.