A Supply Chain Approach to Finding Win-win Sustainable Solutions for Edible But Unharvested Produce

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2017: $219,971.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2020
Grant Recipient: North Carolina State University
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Rebecca Dunning
North Carolina State University Horticulture

Information Products


  • Vegetables: cabbages, cucurbits, greens (leafy), sweet potatoes, tomatoes


  • Crop Production: food processing, food processing facilities/community kitchens, Measurement of and markets for produce seconds and culls (sometimes referred to as food 'waste' or loss)
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: market study
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, food loss on-farm


    The goal of this project was 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, and ultimately reducing farm­-level production losses can benefit the environment, the profitability of the grower, and society. This project took 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. 

    The accomplishments from this project, as detailed in this report, derive from our applied research activities of creating a field-loss measurement protocol, accurately measuring field loss in cooperation with our farmer-cooperators, quantifying the volume of loss by quality category for 13 commonly grown Southeastern U.S. produce crops, quantifying the value of this loss in terms of costs and returns for farmers, and evaluating the practical viability of potential market channels by leveraging our contacts along the produce supply chain. Project members disseminated findings through journal and extension publications, trade publications, videos, and presentations to growers and to researchers. In this final report we briefly present findings by original project objective, and reference project outputs (articles, etc.) where readers can access additional information.

    Project objectives:

    Our project plan of work was designed to enhance farm economic and environmental sustainability by achieving the following objectives: (1) Provide produce growers with easy-­to-­utilize protocols to determine the quantity of less than price point (LPP) and cosmetically imperfect (CI) product left in their fields, (2) Conduct economic analysis to understand the impact on farmer profitability of harvesting/selling LPP and CI product, (3) Capitalize on existing relationships with produce buyers including processors to identify win-­win scenarios to bring edible but unharvested produce to market, (4) Develop, field test, and economically evaluate a mechanical harvest-­aid to efficiently clear and sort product from fields after major harvesting is completed, and (5) Translate and disseminate protocols and outcomes into video and text how-­to guides for growers, agricultural educators, researchers, and food recovery organizations. 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 our recommendations reflect real-­world business circumstances.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.