American Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President Dale Moore joined Chuck Carroll in The Exam Room podcast for a discussion regarding food shortages in the United States due to COVID-19.
According to Carroll, meat processing plants across the Nation are being shut down due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout their workforce. He also said the pork supply alone has seen a 20 percent reduction because of the pandemic.
Carroll invited Moore to his podcast to explain how the fruit and vegetable supply is being affected.
Moore said there has not been a reduction in production. He said farmers are still working to get their produce out of the ground and into the homes of American families. However, the struggle is occurs elsewhere in the chain.
“We had all this produce, but we did not have a place for it to go,” said Moore.
With the closures of restaurants, hotels, convention centers, and the cancellations of events, farmers have struggled to get their produce to the market. For example, Moore said half the tomato supply typically goes to restaurants and other food service facilities but have nowhere to go with the closures of those facilities.
“How do we make this connection work so that those who have food and those that are needing food connect? How do we connect those folks together so that food is not being plowed under,” said Moore.
Moore said because of the nature of the crops, they must be harvested. However, that leads to the struggle of getting the produce out. He explained switching from shipping to restaurants to shipping to grocery stores is not like flipping a switch.
“As consumers,” said Carroll, “typically we just think of farmers shipping fruits and vegetables to grocery stores. We forget about the direct hauling to convention centers, restaurants, and things of that nature.”
Farmers have struggled with labor, cold storage, packaging, and several other links in the chain to get the produce from the field to the grocery store. Some produce requires different handling, packaging, and cooling, when being shipped to grocery stores as opposed to the packaging food service industry requires, making it difficult for farmers to ship to markets and grocery stores — especially if they were not previously doing so before the pandemic.
Additionally, Moore said transitioning from shipping to the food service industry to grocery stores is difficult because they are already at capacity for what they can take in and move out, plus their needs have been diminished with CDC limitations imposed on them.
“Our farmers are producing the food. We’ve got the food. The big issue is — how do we connect,” said Moore.
Because packaging is different for grocery stores, some restaurants in Louisiana are putting their employees to work with packaging duties. The produce is being offered through the restaurants’ curbside services and being donated to different food banks, according to Moore.
“There’s another one of those efforts that we’re hoping is the ingenuity of folks helping find ways to help each other during this crisis, while also protecting the food chain,” said Moore.