Snowpack statewide is only at 59% of its April 1 average, based on electronic measurements according to the California Department of Water Resources. Farmers in the Central Valley producing water-intensive crops such as almonds and tomatoes are already facing some difficult choices. “It’s really serious, particularly in the Central Valley.”
All those bare shelves? “They were dramatic, but not emblematic,” says Daniel Sumner, PhD, a distinguished professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis. Early on, panicked consumers raced to stockpile canned goods, rice, dried beans, and other staples, creating eerie impressions of scarcity in stores. But the food supply chain has remained surprisingly strong, according to Sumner. “It’s much more resilient and solid now than I would have thought 2 months ago.”
There is as much food as there has ever been in the fields, but it is not making it to grocery store shelves. Join us for a conversation with an expert panel of researchers, policymakers, and food distributors about how our food supply chain works, why it’s faltering during the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether changes should be made to make it more resilient.
The virtual townhall was co-chaired by Senate and Assembly Agriculture Committee Chairs, Assemblymember Susan Eggman & Senator Cathleen Galgiani.
Opening remarks were by Jamie Johansson, President of the California Farm Bureau Federation. Other presenters included Roland Fumasi, Ph.D., Vice President, Senior Analyst and Manager, Rabo Research Food & Agribusiness at Rabobank; and Daniel Kowalski, Vice President, Knowledge Exchange Division, CoBank.
An estimated 2.5 million farmworkers across the United States are now deemed essential workers — exempt from shelter-in-place restrictions to keep the country’s food supply flowing. Yet at a time when social distancing and careful sanitizing are necessary safeguards against exposure to the coronavirus, little has been done to protect farmworkers.
“If it’s your only income and you don’t really have access to unemployment, then you’ve got to keep working,” said Daniel Sumner, an economist at the University of California, Davis. “You’re willing to do things you wouldn’t do normally.”
“You do have to think about it commodity by commodity. Which ones are most sensitive to income? Which ones aren’t? Let me just give you a quick example from the wine industry. […] So you could have the central valley wine industry be better off at the same time, the coastal wine industry is hurt. And we saw that in a recession 10 years ago.”
Sumner said impacts of the virus may encourage a cooling of trade tensions and “tariff-caused turmoil when politicians here and elsewhere realize we need to work together to keep the damage to a minimum.”