Exploring Lessons from COVID-19 Disruptions for Enhancing Food System Resiliency

October 26, 2020
A woman with a head scarf and a blue face mask looks at watermelons and peaches at a farmers market.

A multi-region, multi-institution research and outreach proposal led by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has been awarded a two-year, $1 million grant to assess the impact of COVID-19 on food and agricultural systems and to develop strategies for coping with future crises. Lessons from COVID-19: Positioning Regional Food Supply Chains for Future Pandemics, Natural Disasters and Human-made Crises is one of 17 projects nationwide to receive funding through a new program area of the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative targeting rapid response solutions to the pandemic through applied research, education and extension activities. 

“The food system has been visibly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in unanticipated  ways,” said Dr. Hikaru Peterson, professor in the Department of Applied Economics at the  University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. “Food  shortages in grocery stores and food banks coincided with oversupply on farms and food  waste.” 

Peterson explained that while the solutions are unclear, most industry observers believe the  U.S. food system will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed. “Our  project will take a rigorous look at the resilience of the U.S. food system; to learn from the  COVID-19 disruptions and to explore the extent to which local and regional food systems can  effectively augment mainstream supply chains to meet the nation’s food needs during future  natural and human-made crises,” she said.  

Research will take place in three food and farm regions—the Upper Midwest, Southern  Florida and Southern California—which are distinct in sociodemographic, climate and agri-food systems. Project partnering institutions include the University of California-Irvine, the  University of Florida-Gainesville, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kansas State University. 

“This project will build on past and ongoing work by project team members to make timely,  science-based contributions that we hope will improve the preparedness of U.S. food supply  chains for future pandemics and other disruptions,” said Peterson. 

Throughout the two-year project period, researchers will collaborate with organizational leaders representing all segments of the food supply chain, including producers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, food service providers and food banks, to survey those impacted by the pandemic; explore behavioral change among consumers; quantify capacity of regional food systems; model changes in the way food flows within and outside regions; interview community and business leaders to  identify innovative responses to the pandemic; and develop training toolkits for university cooperative extension and other professionals positioned to assist food and farm business owners. 

Results from the project will be made available through both a dedicated website beginning  in January 2021 and the USDA Covid-19 website. Videos, mass media (radio, newspaper) and  webinars will be added to the website as new information is made available. 

The project officially launched Sept. 15, 2020. For more information about the project,  contact Hikaru Peterson in Applied Economics at hhp@umn.edu. Lessons from COVID-19:  Positioning Regional Food Supply Chains for Future Pandemics, Natural Disasters and Human made Crises is supported by AFRI COVID-19 Rapid Response award no. 2020-68006-33037  from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and will be administered by the  Regents of the University of Minnesota.