This is part three of our three part series on resilient supply chains. It is part of our larger series on Healing America, a proposal we published earlier this year that charts a path that policymakers can follow to avoid issues that arise when policy lags behind food and agtech investment and innovation in three key areas. Check out other pieces on rural renaissance, part 1 and part 2 in our resilient supply chain series, and look out for another article on nutrition as national security coming out soon.
While Covid meaningfully impacted key pressure points in the food supply chain, climate change will lead to further supply chain disruptions that will almost certainly be more consequential unless drastic actions are promptly taken. The most recent IPCC report released this August found that “global warming of 1.5C and 2C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.” This will mean increasing heat waves, shorter cold seasons and longer warm seasons and at 2C, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health. But the report also shows that human actions have the potential to determine the future course of climate by limiting greenhouse gases and air pollutants.
Drought, heat, flooding, superstorms, weather volatility, shifting seasons, insect infestations and other impacts of a warming planet can have a significant impact on crop yields. A study published in Nature found with 95 percent certainty that warmer temperatures would reduce yields for maize, rice and soybeans. The report also mentions that even if warming was limited to 1.5C all major producing countries would still face notable warming induced yield reductions. Another paper published in Nature found that climate change will also affect global markets by reshaping agricultural trading patterns. At the same time, agriculture also accounts for ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US and global food systems were estimated to be responsible for about 25 to 42 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. To ensure greater food supply chain resilience, agriculture will have to both adapt to a changing climate and play a role in climate mitigation efforts.
Technologies that reduce environmental externalities while protecting supply chains from climate disruptions represent a powerful lever to enhance resource efficiency and sustainability across the lifecycle of a food product. While there are countless innovative solutions being implemented across the food supply chain, we explore two solutions that serve as examples of powerful adaptation and mitigation efforts to promote supply chain resilience.
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)
While traditional outdoor agriculture is highly subject to climate conditions and other supply chain disruptions, CEA is much more agnostic to climate change, trade deals, political instability and supply chain complexities. As these operations grow and mature they could play a key role in food security amid a changing climate and shifting global trade patterns. Besides maintaining a consistent food supply, CEA can also improve food safety, and reduce pesticide application, food miles and the depletion of increasingly scarce resources such as land and water. While CEA operations are currently very energy intensive, technologies are emerging to enable substantial opportunities for energy savings.
S2G portfolio company Soli Organic is the only large scale USDA Certified Organic soil-based indoor growing system in the US. Soli Organic is the category leader in fresh herbs, and is actively converting the herbs it provides to 22,000+ stores nationwide from field grown sources to its own growing network of indoor farms, where it is also growing a variety of greens for several major national retailers. The company can scale and run an economically viable indoor farm anywhere from 10,000 square feet up to 100,000 square feet, making it very adaptable to fit a wide variety of markets. Their regional growing and distribution model gives retailers and consumers the ability to have a local organic supply of produce year round despite weather conditions and land availability.
“CEA may have been born to solve the environmental challenges facing traditional agriculture. But Soli Organic has also solved two of the greatest challenges associated with CEA, including the ability to grow organically indoors—and the unit economics that will actually scale to create market viability.”
- Matt Ryan, CEO of Soli Organic
CEA would benefit from further research, analysis and focus from the USDA to help guide its trajectory and development. A stronger body of research could be used to inform crop advancement, energy and input cost, sustainability measurements and other CEA attributes. Increased access to capital within USDA lending programs could also help CEA operations get off the ground since the substantial initial capital it takes to finance a CEA operation can be prohibitive. Additionally, USDA programs that target vertical and greenhouse infrastructure development in urban areas with little access to fresh and affordable produce could also expand opportunities for CEA as well as food access and job creation programs.
Project Drawdown, a coalition of experts focused on climate change solutions, ranks reducing food waste as the most impactful solution to global warming. Thirty percent of food produced is lost along the supply chain and when food is wasted so is the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport and package it. If food waste were a country it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the US according to the World Resources Institute. But if we stopped wasting food, about 6 to 8 percent of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions could be eliminated.
Solutions to reducing food waste will become increasingly essential to feed a growing population while minimizing the impacts of climate change. S2G portfolio company, Hazel, is developing shelf life extension technologies that easily integrate with the existing fresh produce supply chain to combat food waste and improve profitability for food companies. The company projects that in 2021 its supply chain solutions will be used with over 6.3 billion pounds of fresh produce, preventing more than 500 million pounds of food from going to waste, and that by the end of the year it will have saved 1 billion pounds of produce from going to waste since its founding in 2015.
"If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas contributor on the planet, behind the US and China. Since the very beginning at Hazel Tech®, we have focused on developing technologies that easily integrate with the existing supply chain to reduce waste and promote climate resilience.”
- Aidan Mouat, CEO and Co-Founder of Hazel Technologies.
The EPA has called for a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030, a goal which our country is still far from reaching. Policies that make funds available for food waste prevention projects, standardize expiration date labeling, and educate consumers can help us reach this ambitious goal. The Zero Food Waste Act which was introduced to the house in July would establish an EPA program to award competitive grants to state, tribal and local governments to support the development of policies, programs and infrastructure focused on preventing food from going to waste, measuring food waste generation, rescuing surplus food and recycling food scraps. Standardized date labeling could eliminate inconsistency and confusion around expiration dates. The bipartisan Food Date Labeling Act would require that the FDA and USDA ensure that businesses that choose to place a date label on their products use one of two standard phrases to indicate the quality or safety of food products. In terms of education, congress could leverage existing ad and consumer education campaigns and fund household food waste reduction research.
The events of the past year and a half have made it clear that we cannot take food supply chains that efficiently and effectively supply nutritious sustainable products to consumers for granted. Climate proofing strategies and technologies can help to ensure our food supply chains not only persist through future disruptions but improve in the areas of food security, food safety and sustainability while meeting evolving consumer demands. Policies that support these developments are crucial for future supply chain resilience.