Food waste in primary production in the UK

25th July 2019

An estimate for food surplus and food waste in primary production in the UK.

Key points
Food surplus & waste estimated at 3.6 million tonnes a year, or 7.2% of all food harvested
This would have a market value of £1.2 billion at farm gate prices
WRAP is at the forefront of acquiring more evidence and taking targeted action

This report outlines an estimate for food surplus and food waste in primary production. There is considerable variation between product categories, and between farmers producing the same product.  The findings reinforce the importance of helping farmers measure waste and surplus, acquiring more evidence and prioritising this area for action, which was reiterated in the Defra Resources and Waste Strategy.

Main findings

The central estimate for the total amount of food surplus and waste is 3.6 million tonnes per annum, or 7.2% of all food harvested. If this wasted and surplus food had been sold at market values, it would have had a value of £1.2 billion. Some small part of this value is recovered through sales for animal feed.

The food waste component of the above is estimated at 1.6 million tonnes per annum, or 3.2% of all food harvested. When clustered into product types, horticultural crops make up 54% of the total, cereals 30%, livestock 8% and milk 8%.

The amount of surplus food – that is material that was at risk of becoming waste, but goes instead for redistribution, animal feed, or to become bio-based materials – is estimated at an additional 2.0 million tonnes per annum (4.0% of all food harvested).

Improving the evidence base and taking action

WRAP works closely with the sector to deliver an ever-improving picture of the scale of on-farm food surplus and waste in the UK, and to take targeted action:

The Food Surplus Network helps smaller businesses and farmers identify the range of opportunities to market surplus produce. 

Innovative Farmers is the not for profit farmer network delivered by a consortium including LEAF. Innovative Farmers is piloting a farmer-led approach to gathering data on food waste. The work is supported by WRAP, and the resulting data will be used to refine our waste estimates where appropriate.

Our Data Sharing Platform: to share and collate data on food loss, waste and surplus in primary production, on a sector-by-sector basis, including context about the quality of the data, variability, crop type and country.

Industry reference values: a list of food surplus and food waste percentage rates across a range of agricultural sectors. The aim is to help farmers understand average, high and low performance in their sectors. The data is taken from the WRAP report Food waste in primary production in the UK.

The Food Waste Reduction Roadmap was developed by the UK food and drink industry in conjunction with WRAP and the IGD to tackle food waste in the UK. The ‘Target Measure Act’ approach is already filtering down to on-farm measurement, and the data will be used to refine WRAP’s waste estimates.

WRAP has published best practice guidance on setting and maintaining quality specifications. Farmer feedback often suggests that quality specifications are one of the primary causes of waste, and WRAP supports the sector to embed this guidance in UK supply chains.