As the United States has now passed the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the nation’s food supply chain are still feeling its effects.
A new multi-region, multi-institution research team aims to assess the impact of the pandemic on food and agricultural systems and to develop strategies for coping with future crises. The project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-AFRI), will involve University of Florida researchers working with scientists from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of California-Irvine, and Kansas State University.
The project, titled “Lessons from COVID-19: Positioning Regional Food Supply Chains for Future Pandemics, Natural Disasters and Human-made Crises,” includes multiple components. One of the earliest efforts will capture impacts to food supply chain businesses via surveys. The survey created for Florida industries is scheduled to close on April 11.
“We’re seeking food supply chain respondents, from producers to retail distributors, and everything in between,” said Christa Court, UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics and lead investigator of the food supply chain survey component of the project. “So far, the response rate in Florida has been lower than expected, and we ask anyone involved to help us to accurately represent Florida industries in this national survey.”
The UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis program, which Court directs, last year conducted similar, short-term surveys of Florida businesses as impacts evolved along with the pandemic. Information from these efforts can be found on the program’s Disaster Impact Analysis webpage and will continue to be updated.
This survey, rather, asks for respondents to reflect on the entirety of 2020 and, along with the partnering institutions’ surveys, will allow for comparisons to other regions of the United States. Specifically, the partner institutions aim to capture impacts in the Midwest and Southern California. The three regions together represent not only diverse commodities but also diverse socioeconomic groups, with the goal to obtain a broader look at the national impacts of the pandemic.
“Here in Florida, we produce an estimated 200-300 different agriculture and food commodities and have a significant number of businesses involved in aggregating, processing and distributing food products to the final consumer. Even if we get 1,000 responses, we might have a small sample from some of these groups or miss others entirely,” Court said. “It’s important to not only get responses, but to get a wide variety of them. Positive, negative or no change, and even in the event of a complete closure, we want to hear what happened to your business in 2020.”
Court added that individual operations will remain unidentifiable and be consolidated into broader categories, should the response rate necessitate.
Individuals from outside Florida are not barred from participation, she said, but such responses might only be reflected among the national overview, depending on response rates for different regions.
The survey for Florida industries can be accessed at tinyurl.com/afri-covid-survey-FL. The researchers plan to close the survey April 11.
Separately, related to the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis program’s earlier efforts, interview subjects are still being sought for an ongoing qualitative study involving collaboration between UF/IFAS, Florida Gulf Coast University, and Florida A&M University. Florida industry professionals in agriculture or food-related sectors who are interested in sharing additional information about their COVID-19 experiences in this format should contact David Outerbridge, UF/IFAS Extension Lee County director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (239) 533-7512.