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Pandemic Supply Chain Issues for Agriculture

“And the Dearth was in all Lands” - Pandemic Supply-Chain Issues for Agriculture

What are a nursery grower’s options when the shipping cost for a single container of decorative pots jumps $20,000? How about a watermelon producer having trouble procuring wood pallets upon which to fill boxes? If the deadline for prepping central Florida strawberry fields is too close for comfort and no commercial delivery is available for that irrigation purchased months ago, where does one turn? In response to the latter case, one local farmer and his sons piled into pickup trucks towing flatbed trailers and ran West to Texas themselves to get it. These real-life examples are not exhaustive but symptomatic of the supply-chain breakdowns that have occurred and prolong over the Covid-19 pandemic.

Farmers may be the backbone of our nation’s economy but unfortunately, even as self-sufficient as they may be, are not immune from input shortages or equipment hiccups. Ag producers have all at some point experienced delays in aspects of their supply needs whether seeds, fertilizer, chemicals, liners, or something else. In the past, these issues have generally been short-lived and impacted single (or very few) products. Hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires, and freezes regularly disturb growing seasons and are part of life. Over the course of the pandemic, however, there have been prolonged sourcing problems with what may seem like everything – with no end in sight. 
Media outlets across the spectrum of news have recently picked up on various supply-chain issues, generally, those most visibly affecting the average consumer. Examples include used car prices being higher as new vehicle production stalls. WingStop switching to thighs because of the lack of wings. Gas prices rising for a multitude of reasons depending on who is reporting – not to mention the crisis in petrochemicals that resulted from historic freezes in Texas. The backlogs and shortages are legion, so for the sake of time let us go over a few selected glaring issues.

Widespread implementation of Lean / Just-in-Time Inventory: One of the most glaringly visible economic cracks highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis has been the fragility of global supply chains. Academics, economists, journalists, and novice pundits will study and opine on what happened and who is to blame for the failures for years to come. An in-depth expose is outside the scope of this review, but it is essential to highlight some of the causes that brought the world's logistics to heel. Soon after runs on toilet paper and shortages of N-95 masks made the news two camps emerged: those blaming “lean” and “just-in-time” inventory systems, and those defending “lean” and “just-in-time” inventory systems. 

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