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“We need a better system” Maryland crop growers’ perspectives on reducing food loss through donation

June 30, 2023
Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development

Caitlin A. Ceryes, Kathryn Heley, Danielle M. Edwards, Chergai Gao-Rittenberg, Leah Seifu, Saifra Khan Sohail, Roni A. Neff


The donation of unharvested or unsold crops to rescue organizations has been promoted as a strat­egy to improve healthy food access for food inse­cure households while reducing production-level food loss and waste (FLW). In this study, we aimed to assess the motivations, barriers, and facili­tators for crop donation as a FLW reduction strat­egy among Maryland farmers. We interviewed 18 Maryland-based food producers (nine frequent crop donors and nine infrequent, by self-report) in 2016 – 2017, soliciting their perspectives on crop donation motivators, process feasibility, and inte­r­ventions aimed at increasing crop donation. The interviews were thematically coded. All respond­ents were aware of crop donation as an option, and most expressed interest in reducing FLW by divert­ing crop surpluses for human consumption. While financial barriers represented one aspect influenc­ing donation decisions, respondents also cited con­venience, process knowledge, and liability as key considerations. In contrast to frequent donors, many of whom considered donation a moral imperative, some infrequent donors questioned the expectation that they would donate crops without compensation. Both frequent and infrequent donors were aware of pro-donation tax incentives, and infrequent donors reported being unlikely to use them. This research demonstrates that crop donation motivations, barriers, and facilitators can be diverse. Given the existence of crop surpluses and their potential benefits as emergency food, our results suggest that multiple interventions and poli­cies may contribute to incentivizing and facilitating crop donation (or enabling the purchase of surplus crops) rather than one-size-fits-all approaches. Our findings also highlight a need to prioritize crop recovery methods that enhance growers’ financial stability.