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In-depth study looks at the impact of COVID-19 on the potato supply chain in the US

When COVID-19 hit, the dynamics in the food supply chain were catapulted into completely uncharted waters, the team at ClimateAI writes in an article published on Medium. The article is titled “It Takes More than You Think to Keep the Food System Running During a Pandemic“.

[California based ClimateAI seeks to make farming more profitable and food systems more resilient by bringing climate forecasting and agronomics into the age of machine learning. The company provides crop specific, farm specific weather forecasts to help farm managers to make critical decisions anywhere in the world – a weather forecast made specifically for farmers.]

Overnight, ClimateAI writes in its article, panic buying left grocery stores devoid of storable foods as people stocked up, preparing for what seemed to be an apocalyptic pandemic. Simultaneously, the near overnight shutdown of restaurants, quick service (fast food), and in some cases global trade, left a massive hole in the demand for certain crops.

The authors of the article dive deep into one crop that has been front and center throughout the pandemic: the potato. What happens to the supply chain when McDonalds stops producing fries, restaurants around the world are forced to close overnight, and potato chips and table potatoes become retail gold?

According to ClimateAI, its case study will help readers build a deep understanding of the impacts that the pandemic sent rippling across the food supply chain and what that may mean for the future of our food system.

ClimateAI quotes a passage from North American Potato Market News from April 1, 2020 describing the grim outlook for the industry:

“Distribution centers and transportation routes are filled with finished product. Cold storage inventories are approaching maximum levels. Processing plants are throttling back and changing product mix to hold down inventories. Some observers believe that most North American processing capacity focused on food service sales, including quick-service restaurants (QSRs), could shut down within 2–3 weeks, due to lack of space for finished product.”

While food service demand tanked overnight, grocery store sales skyrocketed across the board. Virtually all potato related products were flying off the shelves. Retail table potatoes (what you find in the vegetables section in your grocery store) saw sales jump an unprecedented 33%, on par with Thanksgiving sales. Similarly, potato chip processors were burning through their stored potato supplies so fast that many were projected to run out 4 weeks early. (NAPMN, Mar 2020)

Read the full article on Medium here
Further information: Borna Poursheikhani, Chief of Staff at ClimateAI: [email protected]
Cover photo: World Economic Forum. To counter the COVID-19 recession, we need to invest in food systems
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