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USDA awards grant to research from ASU that uses machine learning to reduce food waste


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Timothy Richards.

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July 10, 2019

Nearly a third of the world’s food supply gets thrown out — from produce surplus in farmers’ fields to expired products discarded by retailers to leftovers. That’s the issue Timothy Richards, the Morrison Chair of Agribusiness in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, will be trying to solve with a new grant from the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (NIFA).

“Food waste occurs at virtually all stages of the supply chain from the farmer to the retailer to the consumer — resulting in the disposal of potentially usable food in nearly every sector of the food system in the distribution channel between farmers and consumers,” Richards said.

The goal of the research is to combine grocers’ inventory with machine learning algorithms to develop a better system for matching supply to consumer demand fluctuations. This would ensure customers get what they want without the need for excess food.

In 2017, Richards and a colleague looked at online marketplaces and mobile apps, as well as scan-based trading through a $1 million grant from the USDA. And in a 2018 study, Richards and a colleague found that online marketplaces offer a promising solution for preventing food waste.

“If we combine better inventory management systems with new marketplaces for excess products, we may be able to save a significant share in food retailers’ waste each year,” Richards said.

His paper, “Big Data and Food Loss Mitigation in the Supply Chain,” won an Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities (AERC) grant totaling $499,999 through the Economic Implications and Applications of Big Data in Food and Agriculture program, which is a joint effort between the Economic Research Service and NIFA.

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