Inspirational ideas: Irish potato company prevents food loss on the farm
Plant production and horticulture
Preventing food loss on the farm
Agriculture is at the centre of challenges associated with population growth, food security, climate change and resource scarcity. Inefficiencies in the agri-food chain can lead to reduced productivity and wasted energy, so the natural resources that are invested can become waste. Therefore, measures to prevent this food loss are important. The Irish Meade Potato Company is one of the companies that has come up with some interesting ideas to do so.
“From a business point of view, it makes sense to use every resource we have at our disposal. Growing and selling potatoes and vegetables, we are in a high volume, low margin business. This means that investment in more efficient production methods and recovery of by-products is crucial and that we have to take decisions from a sustainable point of view”, says Eleanor Meade. She is Business manager at the potato company. Since 1982 this family company has been running different product lines in potatoes, fruit, vegetables and salads. The company nowadays has a 1500 m2 packing facility and 5000 m2 of storage.
“The first steps to limit food waste are made as soon as the trucks come in, by doing a quality check. The boxes of fruit and vegetables are rarely rejected; instead they are sorted out” says Eleanor: “When the delivery boxes enter the facility floor, they aren’t left between the fridge and packing machine, but put into the right fridge. There are five specific fridges with different temperatures to match the needs of the different vegetables. The size of the packaging for the supermarkets changes during the season, to adapt to the crop and to consumer demand. We always say: if you know what the consumer wants, you can reduce your waste. Additionally, we negotiate with supermarkets to see whether they can adapt their standards to the reality of the vegetables received. Not only for potatoes, but for all the food that we deliver to them. This isn’t always easy, but an honest discussion is always better than trying to get around their requirements”.
“When it comes to potatoes, Meade is largely consumer-driven”, says field manager Connor O’Malley. “Our quality check results in 3 types of rejected potatoes. There are potatoes that are out of spec, too large or too small. However, we can still sell the small ones as baby potatoes, for which there is a huge demand. The potatoes that are too scathed are peeled and cooked and can afterwards be sold as prepared potatoes. Those peeled potatoes can be sold to the entire sales market, but also to catering companies. The leftovers go to feed for cattle. By sorting potatoes into these groups and finding the right market for them, we can really limit food loss”.
Some of the perfectly edible potatoes that are surplus or out of spec, are donated to charity. NGO Green accompanies them to enable this. “It also brings some challenges, because you need staff to organise it. But if you set yourself a commitment to zero-waste you must do it”, concludes Eleanor.
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