Disruptions in processing, in particular for meat, can “disconnect” supply and demand, creating simultaneous surpluses for producers and shortages for consumers, while for some specific products demand has also decreased, leading to a temporary oversupply (e.g. potatoes for French fries, or milk for cheese).

At the same time, shoppers sometimes experienced empty shelves in supermarkets during the early days of COVID-19, as food supply chains adjusted to the sudden demand surge.

Further, consumers are even more sensitive to these disruptions for milk than for potatoes, because they pay a higher premium for dairy products. Hence, dairy, and particularly the skimmed-milk market, could be particularly sensitive to COVID-19 disruptions. When demand falls unexpectedly, overproduction can surge as retailers move production to meet consumer demand, creating a chaotic spiral.

With early warnings, managers and farmers can improve food supply chains resilience to these shocks by taking pre-emptive measures such as avoiding overproduction and to developing contingency plans.

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Alleviating Food System Risk to Existing Practices According to the researchers, small-scale farmers could develop a distinct niche by producing dairy, fruit, fish, vegetables, and grain-free “smart” foods such as cultured wheat. They might create one large “mid-market” chain focused on these products, with consumers paying the same prices for milk, cheese, fish, vegetables, and grain-free foods as for mainstream products, but at the same premium price (perhaps at even lower premium for the traditional foods) for milk, cheese, and dairy.

A rapid response to the expected sudden spike in demand from surpluses can thus prevent the sharp price increases that accompany food system shocks, as well as the temporary shortages that are an inevitable outcome of such shocks. Conversely, targeted smart foods supply chains could save large-scale dairy and meat producers and processors, particularly from sudden supply dips.

When the capacity to deliver milk, cheese, or meat falls below demand, farmers can supply these products in less flexible forms (e.g. dried milk powder) or by creating more localized and value-added milk products. Cost-efficient Solution A dairy supply chain disruption is potentially a particularly cost-efficient way to boost supply stability. To achieve a complete break-even in less than 24 hours, dairy production in many regions is labour intensive.

Moreover, since dairy, potatoes, and flour represent a relatively small portion of overall crop yields, the proportion of excess supply available to the market is not very large. The most immediate risk of an immediate food system shock is likely to be in the vegetable market, which might receive the largest share of COVID-19 impact if key European produce markets, like the Netherlands and Italy, experience sharp price increases. But vegetable production is particularly labour-intensive. Much of Europe relies on seasonally frozen fields for vegetable production in winter and early spring, so an anticipated shift to short-season vegetables could exacerbate food system shocks by pushing down the seasonal minimums for many crops. Instead, vegetable farmers could shift to other areas of the world, where COVID-19 effects are less expected and less severe.

A rapid response to seasonal shifts in supply (e.g., expanding onion and garlic production) would mitigate the consequences of the COVID-19 disruption. Moreover, alternative products in the vegetable supply chain can still be delivered to markets—supplemented by demand for imports—and lower prices could be negotiated to allow these products to be more affordable for the low-income households that rely on these foods.

There is no quick fix to food system resilience. In the context of the ongoing refugee crisis and the potential for large-scale food production disruptions, policy makers should consider new efforts to bolster Europe’s resilience to food system shocks. The speed and scale of climate change pose the most direct threats to food security, but Europe’s strategic food system vulnerabilities also require increased effort to prevent the slow, delayed and hidden impacts of large-scale shocks.

Europe’s food systems in the near future.

We know that current policy and research focus remains far too narrow. Renewed investments in adapting Europe’s food systems are desperately needed. In addition to COVID-19, here are four additional key policy issues that require immediate attention:

1. More support and involvement of industry—rather than agricultural research programs—to support the implementation of EU energy efficiency measures.

2. More effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The use of biofuels, an alternative to fossil fuels for transportation, has been adopted in many regions of Europe. But increased emissions from biofuels have been offset by the adverse effects on food prices. Changes to current policy should reflect these net impacts and prioritize the use of biofuels on the highest-efficiency farms.

3. Creation of support systems for land vulnerable to rising sea levels, drought, and other climate-related impacts.

4. Develop plans to integrate climate resilience and social equity into the design of future policies, focusing on both short- and long-term actions.

The high-resolution climate and crop maps are meant to help decision makers and stakeholders anticipate future challenges and develop strategies to mitigate them. These climate and crop maps are intended to enhance the effectiveness of current actions and foster ongoing development of new policy tools and public investments to improve the resilience of European food systems.

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Steve Kettle – Circle Select

Before joining the team in August 2020, I worked for a further 2 years as an internal recruiter for Bakkavor where I was responsible for volume recruitment across multiple sectors. Having seen the growth of Circle Select in the last couple of years, it was a no brainer when I was asked to join the team and be a part their continuous success.

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