Whole Crop Harvest

The goal of this two ­year (2017-2020) project is to increase the economic and environmental sustainability of produce growers by developing and disseminating approaches to utilize produce that typically goes unharvested. Fruit and vegetables that never reach the consumer represent losses of water, chemical inputs, labor, and land, in addition to the loss of nutrient dense, recoverable food. Measuring, understanding the underlying reasons for, and ultimately reducing farm level production losses can benefit the environment, the profitability of the grower, and society.

Whole Crop Harvest takes a supply chain approach—with research and education activities along the supply chain from farm through intermediary buyers and commercial food preparers—with the goal of identifying and piloting economically efficient ways to minimize production loss, and, in turn, augment farm revenues. Knowing what volume is lost on-farm and why is a first step to utilizing more of the crop. Connecting this knowledge to the downstream components of the food supply chain—to wholesaler/distributors, processors, and their grocery and food service customers—helps to ensure that any project recommendations reflect real ­world business circumstances. Whole Crop Harvest is funded by the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, and focuses on nine common southeastern crops.

Project Objectives

(1) Create easy­-to-­utilize protocols that can be used to quickly determine the quantity of edible produce left in the field (including produce that meets buyer specifications, as well as wholesome product outside of these specifications based on size, surface scarring, etc.)

(2) Complete economic analysis to understand the impact on farmer profitability of harvesting/selling product typically left in the field

(3) Identify and test win-win scenarios to bring edible but unharvested produce to market by working in partnership with businesses along the supply chain, from farm through distributor and processing intermediaries to food service outlets

(4) Develop, field test, and economically evaluate a mechanical harvest-­aid to efficiently clear and sort product from fields after major harvesting is completed

(5) Disseminate protocols and research findings into video and text how­-to guides for growers, agricultural educators, researchers, and food recovery organizations

Project Team

Dr. Rebecca Dunning, Sociologist and Agricultural Economist
Dr. Dara Bloom, Rural Sociologist
Dr. Kathryn Boys, Agricultural Economist
Dr. Michael Boyette, Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
Dr. Lisa K. Johnson, Horticultural Scientist and Food Loss Specialist