As Much as $2.6 Billion of Corn and Soy Never Leaves US Farms
October 25, 2022 /3BL Media/ - A first-of-its-kind study from World Wildlife Fund (WWF), No Grain Left Behind, indicates that on-farm losses of corn and soy crops in the United States are much higher than industry-accepted estimates, with a potential national loss of 507 million bushels of corn and 53 million bushels of soy annually. Based on 2019 production figures and prices, this represents an estimated $2.6 billion loss of yearly revenue—$2.1 billion for corn and $500 million for soy. It also illustrates a staggering amount of land that is used to produce corn and soy that is left behind in fields or never sold, all while millions of acres of natural habitat are plowed up every year for cropland expansion.
“The US is extremely efficient at producing commodity crops like corn and soy—so efficient that any farm-level losses were assumed to be negligible. But now we know that’s just not true,” said Leigh Prezkop, senior program officer for food loss and waste at WWF. “At a time when our global food system is facing compounding pressures from war, climate change, and population growth, we can’t afford to let such a staggering amount of consumable food and natural resources go to waste. Improving our efficiency is vital if we want to tackle skyrocketing food prices, food shortages, and reduce the destruction of native habitat for agriculture.”
The WWF study focuses on field-level losses for corn and soybeans, which collectively represent 22% of agricultural cropland in the US. Primary data from 15 corn and 16 soy sample farms revealed that, while corn farmers anticipated a .65% loss, the average actual loss was 4.7%. For soy, the actual average loss was 4.5%, as opposed to the accepted industry loss of 3%. Pre-harvest losses associated with dramatic and unpredictable weather events from climate change were not a part of this study, but warrant further research.
The range of loss from sample farms was highly variable, from .5% to 18% for corn and 1.8% to 7.4% for soy. Harvesting machinery operators with more than 30 years’ experience had less loss, as did farms using technologically sophisticated machines. The report recommends a focus on better training for farm operators, plus increased investment in sophisticated equipment for farms that can afford it, and equipment rental or sharing programs for farms that can’t.
“The loss and waste of commodity crops in this country is not being monitored or tracked, and that’s a problem. While our study is a snapshot of a small area of production, it’s clear evidence that this issue is one that desperately needs more attention,” said Katherine Devine, director of business case development for WWF’s Markets Institute. “Measurement at the farm level is critical, but perhaps even more importantly, traders and producers must globally share loss data across their supply chains.”
Underscoring the importance of minimizing commodity crop loss is WWF’s annual Plowprint report, also released today, tracking grassland loss in the North American Great Plains. This year the report found that 1.8 million acres of native habitat were plowed up in 2020, primarily for expansion of wheat, corn, and. More information on Plowprint is available here.
Both reports reinforce the need for stronger local and national programs and policies to improve efficiency, discourage overproduction, and avoid conversion of native habitats.
WWF is one of the world’s leading conservation organizations, working in nearly 100 countries for over half a century to help people and nature thrive. With the support of more than 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat the climate crisis. Visit http://www.worldwildlife.org to learn more and keep up with the latest conservation news by following @WWFNews on Twitter and signing up for our newsletter and news alerts here.
Lorin Hancock, Lorin.Hancock@wwfus.org