Opinion: Earth Day: California Must Curb Central Valley Food Waste as Water Crisis Worsens

In the Central Valley, agriculture is everything. Farmers here grow 25% of the country’s food, yet copious amounts of flawed produce is dumped or left to rot.

For many supermarkets, an orange with a hail scratch is deemed unsellable. In 2019, researchers from Santa Clara University found that an estimated one-third of food in northern and central California is wasted, largely because of supermarket standards and consumer habits. We cannot follow this model of growing more produce than we need – or wasting this much – given California’s limited water resources, drought on surface water, and severe overpumping of groundwater.

Pandemic, Water Costs, Consumer Behavior Lead to $2 Billion in Ag Losses Thus Far

The pandemic’s direct negative economic impact on California ag is predicted to be between $5.9 and $8.6 billion in 2020. The estimated year-to-date losses are more than $2 billion.

Water’s Not the Issue

As the coronavirus creeps through the human population, causing social and economic turmoil, farmers discard vast quantities of food that they are abruptly unable to sell in the upended economy. The waste has been widely reported as one heartbreaking impact of the Covid-19 crisis. Part of the problem seems to be that, with restaurants closed, vegetable farmers, as well as producers of milk, eggs and meat, wound up with no one to buy their goods.