If you’ve gone shopping recently, you may have noticed that many store shelves are still empty. As much as we’d like to blame the dwindling food supply solely on COVID-19, that simply isn’t true.
According to The World Bank, “Hunger was trending upward even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated existing effects from extreme climate events, conflict, and other shocks to economic opportunities.”
COVID-19 brought the food supply crisis to our attention. Unfortunately, until the food supply chain is shortened, we will face additional scenarios where grocery shelves are empty.
Moreover, Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate says, “Supply chains are far from getting back to normal, and the story of the COVID-19 pandemic, including variants, is far from being finalized.”
So, what exactly is the reason for the dwindling food supply and the lack of chicken wings, ketchup packets, and caffeine-free Coke? Let’s take a look.
The U.S. Food Supply Comes from These Three Sources
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “There are currently no nationwide shortages of food, although in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your grocery store might be temporarily low before stores can restock.”
In other words, the USDA is attempting to assure us that we are not facing a food shortage. However, there are major food supply distribution issues. These distribution issues, among other issues, are why our shelves are a little more barren.
USDA claims, “The U.S. food sector is supplied by three sources; domestic production, imports, and what we have in storage. We also rely on a network of manufacturers and distributors to process agricultural outputs, prepare them for human consumption and move products from farms, to production facilities, and finally to consumers.”
Let’s explore what is happening with each of these three sources currently (July 2021).
America’s domestic production includes the production of agricultural commodities, such as cereal, meat, and eggs. We currently have an ample supply of wheat, meat, eggs, and dairy in the country, and production is higher this year than last year.
Domestic production also includes the domestic supply chain. This is where problems begin. While the U.S. did not see many disruptions in the food supply chain during the first year of COVID, some industries, such as chicken factories, came to a complete halt. Moreover, the manufacturing slowdown in industries responsible for packaging also created havoc, such as a pickle shortage due to a lack of pickle jars.
[Related Read: How to Prepare for More Supply Chain Disruptions]
Next, add in labor shortages, and domestic production slowed even more. McKinsey reports, “For many farm operations that require significant amounts of labor (mainly, production of specialty crops, such as strawberries and lettuce), the most pressing pandemic-related challenge faced so far was the availability of workers. […] Within the United States, multiple farming and processing value chains are dependent on migrant workers including those under sponsored visa programs. Only three in ten workers in the US agricultural workforce are born in or are citizens of the United States; the rest are born in other countries, and many are in the United States on guest agricultural visas.”
Another issue plaguing farmers is not being able to forecast the next season. During the height of the pandemic, farmers were having to make quick decisions about what to plant and harvest. Since they lost money during the pandemic, some farmers made decisions to reduce production.
McKinsey explains, “If farmers go a step further to reduce capacity, such as eliminating hens, culling herds, and selling farmland, they could reduce capacity for the long term. That could lead to product shortages and price increases for both food producers and consumers when downstream demand returns.”
USDA reports, “USDA’s most recent report on commodities in cold storage shows that at the end of February, total red meat in freezers was up five percent and chicken was up six percent from last year.” That’s good news.
However, the pandemic made it clear that we must address storage issues.
For instance, many food service providers have the equipment to produce and store large multi-serving quantities of food. During the pandemic, many of these food service providers tried to shift to single-serve or smaller portions. Redistribution is costly and takes time.
According to McKinsey, “[Packaged goods companies] also face significant increase in demand for certain product types (especially shelf-stable products) and packaging types (such as smaller sizes for home consumption) for which they have limited capabilities and capacity to supply.”
America’s third food source comes from imports. And that’s where we run into big problems.
Reuters reports, “There are too few truckers to keep goods moving. Air freight capacity for fresh produce has plummeted as planes are grounded. And there is a shortage of food containers for shipping because of a drop in voyages from China.”
In addition to import logistics with travel, some countries implemented export bans during the pandemic. For example, during the pandemic, India and Vietnam halted rice exports, and Russia put limits on wheat exports. If they did it then, they can do it again.
However, experts are hopeful that the dwindling food supply that occurred as a result of COVID-19 will lead to positive changes as far as importing goods.
Julie Howard, senior adviser on global food security at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, argues, “The devastating impacts of the pandemic may provide the key impetus for leaders, the private sector and donors to expand investments aimed at developing much more productive, climate-resilient and healthy home-grown food and agricultural systems.”
In other words, it is critical that America begins to depend less on this third food source (imports) and invests in agriculture and food production domestically.
How You Can Practice Food Independence
Food independence looks different depending on who you ask. Some individuals stock several months of long-term emergency food in their homes; others learn how to forage, hunt, and grow their own food. Many do a combination of the two.
[Related Read: Food Sovereignty: Feed Yourself, Free Yourself]
Ultimately, food independence is achieved by not relying on the government or your grocery store to provide food.
Again, the issue isn’t food supply shortages, but food supply disruptions. If you practice food independence, you won’t have to worry when we experience another supply chain disruption.
Feed yourself, free yourself, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply