Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Chris Judd

The 60 per cent of food produced by farmers not eaten

Last week an old farmer friend of mine told me that he didn’t believe that sixty per cent of the food we produce, never gets eaten. This was a wake-up call to me because if a farmer doesn’t believe that food waste is that high, what per cent of our consumers are also very doubtful?
Although I had spent some time researching this subject before, I thought that I should review my confidence. Although we have all known for years that in the “have countries”, we are wasting a large per cent of the food we produce, there are many voices that constantly tell us that without all the new technology, new seed varieties, new more efficient chemical fertilizers and sprays being developed each year, our planet will not be able to feed itself in a few years.
Let’s take a look at where this food waste happens:

#1 right in the field where the farmer grows the corn, wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, hay, apples, peas, etc.

Historically, farmers usually grow a few more acres than what they need because every year is different. On a good year, 60 acres of corn silage will feed your herd. On a dry year, it might take more than a hundred acres to fill the same size bunker, so the farmer may plant 80 acres each year and on a good year, he can store some extra for a bad year that may follow, or maybe combine the extra 20 acres for grain corn. That is not waste, just good planning ahead.
There are also farmers who grow corn, peas, beans, ect. for the cannery under contract. The cannery (Green Giant is but one) may require the farmer to plant twenty per cent more than what they will need just to be sure to have enough tons of the vegetable to fill the contract on a not so good year. The farmers are paid a premium price which is more than he would get for cattle feed and if one field gets to mature before harvest, it is just plowed down. If not all the crop is required by the cannery, the farmer is paid anyway but some fields of perfect peas or corn for “nibblets” gets plowed down.
Carrots are a crop that consumers expect to look perfect. Any carrots that are not shaped perfectly get pulled of the harvester right in the field and plowed down. Mom used to plant beets every year in our garden. We ate boiled “beet tops” just like swiss-chard as a vegetable before mom harvested the beets. Not many “beet tops” are bought in the grocery store today.
This was a great growing year and all crops were thick and heavy. Some soybean fields that look great are so thick that the soybean pods can get fungus or mildew damage. Often they can be sprayed with fungicide if noticed on time. If the bean itself gets blemished before harvest, it may be heavily discounted in price or used as animal feed.
For more than 50 years, all grains (corn, wheat, oats, etc.) have “bushel weight” calculated into the price that the farmer gets paid. Light bushel weight grain will result in a lower price per ton. Now most corn or other grains with “high bushel weight” are chosen at planting time. High bushel weight is arrived at by breeding a grain that has a harder starch. Harder starch has to be pulverized very fine to be digested.
Many farmers that fed animals, preferred a softer starch so grain could be lightly rolled (to allow more fiber) before feeding to animals. Heavy grain with very hard starch must be pulverized to make the starch digestible, but then more fiber (hay) must be added to the ration to balance the “fiber-non structured carbohydrate” ratio. This means feeding very digestible, high protein haylage to provide enough fast digestible protein to match the pulverized corn starch (energy) digestion pool.
This year you may notice some hay being cut and left chopped or just lying in the field because there is a surplus of hay. With high fertilizer prices, the fertility value of leaving the hay on the field is greater than the value of the hay.
Only a short time ago, thousands of tonnes of perfect potatoes were dumped back on the fields in PEI because the USA refused to import them. Potatoes grown for potato chips are a different shape than those used for baked potatoes. Nothing nutritionally wrong with those millions of dollar’s worth of potatoes, just no buyers.
Dairy production: I love cheese. But after the cheese is made, only the whey is left. Until the “Vod-cow” distillery worked with an Ottawa university and learned how to make vodka from this almost worthless leftover from the cheese industry, whey was just sprayed back onto fields. Now a huge ethanol plant is being built in Minnesota to use this milk byproduct to make ethanol.
Meat: Even with thousands of scientists graduating each year, we have witnessed mad cow disease accelerate so fast as to cause the destruction and cremation of a million animals before they got a handle on controlling the disease. How many tons of meat was that?
Only a few years ago E. coli infection shut down one of the largest beef abattoirs in the world and thousands of tons of meat again was dumped and buried in the ground. There have been gigantic disease outbreaks in both hogs (China) and chickens which led to more mass-graves to inter more millions of tons of meat that could have fed millions of people.
It seems like almost every year thousands of tons of lettuce or some other vegetable is recalled because of E. coli contamination. Just last week hundreds of young children in daycares in Alberts were hospitalized, with some still in ICU. Again, it was E. coli infection. Where is all this E. coli, salmonella, and clostridial contamination coming from?
Just a few words about food waste: During the Covid-19 shutdown that is still fresh in our minds; trips to our favorite restaurants dropped dramatically. So did our demand for food. The dairy farmers’ milk quotas were cut and ALL meat sales reduced, because anything served in a restaurant that was not eaten right then, was discarded in the trash.
At home, we learned to cook only what the family would eat, or we maybe learned how to eat leftovers. I didn’t hear of anyone starving during the Covid stay-at-home, but a few did loose a few pounds! In many European countries, it is illegal for food stores to discard edible food. It must be donated to homeless shelters or food banks.

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations. gladcrest@gmail.com

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