More than £24 million of strawberries and £7m of lettuces were wasted on UK farms, but more accurate forecasting and new specifications could help tackle waste.
Research by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) showed 9 per cent of the mature strawberry crop and 19 per cent of the lettuce crop went to waste in 2015.
For lettuce, one grower said he had to overproduce because growers did not dare to let customers down for fear of losing their contracts, with overproduction the only way to ensure volumes in any weather conditions.
Despite opportunities for strawberries in the class 2 sector, such as jams, many producers struggled to sell into these markets due to manufacturers wanting commitments of volumes earlier in the season and competition from low cost imports.
The biggest causes of waste were pest and disease damage or fruit being misshapen or the wrong size.
One grower quoted in the report said he could understand wasting damaged fruit, but not for size and misshape.
With huge variations with the proportion of waste on-farm, WRAP suggested benchmarking and sharing best practice could help growers identify improvements.
It also recommended better supply and demand management in lettuce value chains and greater flexibility for strawberries.
Strawberry growers believed it was possible to have plants which only produced Class 1 fruit with a new variety, Malling Centenary, generating a lot of excitement among growers.
NFU director of policy Andrew Clark said improved forecasting meant farmers could plan ahead and called on the whole supply chain to ‘do their bit’.
He said: “Retailer product specifications are important and beneficial to maintain produce quality, but these can also be problematic when they are not responsive to seasonal challenges.”
The strawberry season usually ends at the end of September, with the latest strawberries coming from Scotland, but recent sunny weather has boosted the crop across the country this year.
Tesco has announced it will be stocking the crop as part of its drive to cut back on waste and said the products were a ‘real treat’ for shoppers, with British strawberries considered the best in the world.