Three faculty members in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech received a $633,551 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund a four-year research project on the economics of food loss and waste.

“Reducing food loss and waste may have implications for both the environmental impact of agriculture and for food prices,” said John Bovay, an assistant professor of food and health economics and the principal investigator for the project. “The environmental costs are mostly generated by inputs such as fertilizer, water, pesticides, and fuel to produce, market, and purchase food that eventually goes uneaten.”

In 2015, the Department of Agriculture partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a goal to cut our nation’s food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.

The long-term goal in the Virginia Tech project is to develop methods for measuring on-farm food loss and waste and to construct a nationwide measure for vegetables as well, which is missing from existing U.S. measures of loss and waste along the farm-to-fork food supply chain.

The team will focus on vegetables for several reasons, according to Wei Zhang, a co-principal investigator and an assistant professor of environmental and natural resource economics.

“First, because produce is highly perishable, vegetables likely make up the majority of on-farm crop loss and waste. Second, vegetables are healthy but relatively expensive for consumers. Third, on-farm loss of vegetables may be particularly responsive to market forces and climate conditions,” said Zhang.

Feeding America, an organization that responds to the needs of individuals struggling with food insecurity, reported that the U.S. has more than enough food for everyone to eat. But each year, billions of pounds of food go to waste. Meanwhile, 38 million face hunger in the United States.

“This grant will allow the team to fully investigate the impact of agricultural policies on farm decision-making that will address these important and crucial issues of waste,” said Ford Ramsey, a co-principal investigator and an assistant professor in agribusiness.

The research began this year and is set to conclude in 2025.  

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