Farmers Throwing Out Harvests Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
What is the Solution?
Reports of U.S. farmers throwing out harvests due to the food service value chain crash have increased dramatically over the past two weeks. The crops we’ve seen are mostly eggs, milk, meats, vegetables, and fruits.
It pains me to see farmers invest their time, energy and money into growing their crops, only to throw them into the compost upon harvest because there is no available market. Not to mention the financial risks they assume to grow these crops.
This heartbreaking occurrence is all too familiar for farmers. It demonstrates the fragility of our value chains and highlights the urgent need to integrate new solutions to make our systems more intelligent and resilient.
Along with the pain of farmers’ economic losses we feel the frustration of throwing out perfectly good harvests when homeless shelters and food kitchens may soon begin to run low on food. Throwing out agricultural products is a widespread phenomenon—in the U.S. and around the world.
How do we solve this problem?
First, it must be noted that there are two general categories of supply chain to consider in the non-commodity “produce” value chains: fresh and processed. Below I will share some of the solutions that the Producers Market team are working on for each channel.
The simpler answer is to create a real-time harvest data capture system that connects into a network of logistic providers and plugs into the buyer networks of added-value processors. With better data systems and market access to processors, farmers without access to a fresh market have a secondary option to sell. Processing options can include freezing, dehydration, freeze-drying, canning, and jarring. Once products are made shelf stable in bulk, they can be stored and sold when appropriate to other processors or packaged as a consumer good for grocery retail markets.
In the event that this regional infrastructure for processing or packing doesn’t exist, which in many emerging and some mature markets it does not, there is a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs. These can work with government agencies, banks, and upstream market partners to finance and build facilities that can create sustainable jobs, reduce food waste, and support resilient food systems. However, without the digitalization of value chain stakeholders, and real-time access to harvest data, farmers may still suffer considerable unnecessary losses.
Selling outputs into fresh markets is far more complicated due to perishability and increased food safety concerns. Nonetheless, we feel that an industry-wide digital upgrade focused on digitization and data collection could solve these issues.
Here are some simplified steps we propose to begin establishing an integrated fresh supply chain:
- Register farmers into a digital platform with a GPS location. Farmers report what they are growing and how much they intend to harvest. Once a product is harvested, this data is shared across the network.
- Register packers and processors into the same digital platform with a GPS location. Packers and processors report what products they are available to purchase, along with the volume processing capacities in real-time.
- Register brokers, traders, logistics providers, and other third-party service stakeholders in the system to easily connect farmers with the packers and processors
These issues will not be solved overnight. However, solving these challenges in the future requires a strong commitment today towards incentivizing and funding innovative models, as well as the adoption of digitization across the industry.
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