More than a billion pounds of food a year is wasted before it even reaches the shelf, according to a new report from WRAP.
Research by the sustainability body found that around 3.6 million tonnes of food surplus and waste occurs in primary production every year, worth £1.2bn.
Agricultural food waste exceeds 1.6 million tonnes with 2 million tonnes of surplus – equivalent to 7% of the total annual UK food harvest.
Food intended for human consumption is counted as waste if it ends up being disposed, composted, ploughed back or sent to anaerobic digestion. It counts as surplus if it is redistributed, fed to livestock or used to produce bio-based materials.
The data covers the moment from when a food crop is ready to harvest, or an animal to be slaughtered, and assesses surplus and waste arising from processes such as grading, packing and washing – as well as customer rejections.
Sugar beet is the most wasted crop by volume with 347,000 tonnes wasted every year; however the most money is lost on poultry production with the equivalent of £85m a year wasted.
Data also showed that more than 15% of the total carrot and onion crops are wasted at the primary production stage, while for lettuces the percentage of waste is nearly 25% of total production.
Common causes of food waste and surplus include a failure to meet specifications or quality standards, poor storage conditions and product handling, and fluctuations in supply and demand.
WRAP said the insights would help drive forward work on the root causes of agricultural waste and help more food reach its intended market.