Food shortages happen for a multitude of reasons but since COVID-19 these shortages seem more abundant than ever. And I think we all remember the great cream cheese shortage of 2021 at peak holiday cheesecake season! (Or maybe that’s just me...)
On this episode, Bob revisits the podcast alongside Christa Court, the director of the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program to discuss why these shortages happen and how shoppers can help prevent them or at least not make them WORSE.
Infographic: What is the food system? (Agriculture section)
To learn more about UF/IFAS and how food IS our middle name, visit: ifas.ufl.edu/food/
Tory Moore [00:00:06]
Welcome to the Food is Our Middle Name podcast. I'm your host, Tory Moore. And today we'll ask what's the deal with all these food shortages?
Well, many of us experienced these food shortages firsthand in March 2020 during early COVID-19 related shutdowns. Food shortages have continued well into 2022 and seem to pop up sometimes out of nowhere, or at least in the eyes of the consumer, they're out of nowhere. Today, we'll break down how the food supply chain works, how farmers continue to overcome supply chain challenges to keep food on our plates, and what consumers can do to help.
Today we have UF/IFAS experts Bob Hochmuth and Dr. Christa Court. Welcome, Bob and Christa. I'm so excited to learn from you today.
Bob Hochmuth [00:00:53]
Thanks for the opportunity.
Christa Court [00:00:54]
Thanks for having us, Tory.
Tory Moore [00:00:55]
So, before we get into our interview on the podcast, we have a little game that we play to kick off each episode. So, Krista, I'm going to nominate you to play this game with me.
I'm going to ask you a series of fun food questions. There's no wrong answers. And the goal is to answer as many questions as you can before we run out of time. You have 15 seconds. It's going to be Rapid fire, quick fun food questions. Are you ready?
Christa Court [00:01:18]
Tory Moore [00:01:19]
Okay, I'm going to get the timer going and let's go. Favorite food?
Christa Court [00:01:25]
Tory Moore [00:01:26]
Coffee or tea?
Christa Court [00:01:28]
Tory Moore [00:01:29]
Food you hate?
Christa Court [00:01:31]
Tory Moore [00:01:32]
Oh, sweet or spicy?
Christa Court [00:01:34]
Tory Moore [00:01:35]
Favorite meal of the day?
Christa Court [00:01:37]
Tory Moore [00:01:38]
Ice cream order.
Christa Court [00:01:41]
Cookies and cream.
Tory Moore [00:01:42]
Oh, perfect. You did great. We're out of time. Good job. Thanks for playing along with us.
So, let's get into the interview. So first, if you can tell me a little bit about your role and how it relates to the supply chain. Christa, let's hear from you first.
Christa Court [00:01:57]
Sure. So, I'm an assistant professor of regional economics in the Food and Resource Economics Department. So, my expertise is in regional economic modeling. So, understanding how industries are related to one another, how demand for those industries comes from different places, such as households or the government or exports and imports. All of those things is what we study on a daily basis.
So, looking at food within that supply chain is where I'm coming at the issue from.
Tory Moore [00:02:27]
Okay. And, Bob, tell me a little bit about your role.
Bob Hochmuth [00:02:30]
Sure. I'm a regional extension agent and specialize in commercial vegetable crops. And so, my role there is to extend the research-based information from the university out to the consumers of this particular information. In this case, it's the vegetable farmers in the region. I work at a research and education center near Live Oak, the North Florida Research and Education Center, Suwannee Valley.
So typically, I'm going to be working directly with farmers on their farms, trying to help them to find solutions to problems, whether that's some pest management aspect or water nutrient management, food safety training, all of those things. But my role would be working more directly with the farmer.
Tory Moore [00:03:13]
Okay, perfect. Yeah, that's, I think, a great comparison. As you know, Bob, you're in person boots on the ground. And Christa, you're looking at impacts and numbers to understand what's happening, I guess so to speak, behind the scenes or, you know, from the from the office.
I know the food supply chain is, can be extremely complicated. But Krista, can you kick us off with maybe the 20,000 foot level explanation of what the food supply chain is? What does that even mean? And a little bit about how it works.
Christa Court [00:03:42]
Sure. So as the 20,000-foot level, I would say there's three major links in that chain. It's production, processing and then distribution.
So, production is everything that goes on in the field. The processing might include anything that happens beyond the farm gate to get that product ready to go into a market. So that might be things like aggregating, packing houses, processing, even manufacturing the fresh product into a processed products so taking grains to become cereal or strawberries to become jam, packed and then distribution. So that's everything involved in the supply chain logistics to get it off the farm and away from that processing steps into the market.
There's two distinct chains in distribution and also in processing, whether you're preparing food to go to a consumer to be consumed at home, or whether you're preparing it to be consumed away from home in something like a restaurant or a hotel or a cruise ship. And so there's a lot of differences in how products move through that supply chain, how long they stay in that supply chain, and even where they end up at the end of that supply chain.
Tory Moore [00:04:54]
Awesome. Thank you. So, let's maybe give a specific example Bob. Bob, could you give us an example of how something like watermelon perhaps? What does that fruit’s journey from the farm to the plate? How do I, how do I get it in my hands from the grocery store?
Bob Hochmuth [00:05:08]
Well, first of all, we'd love for you to be able to get a fresh Florida watermelon in your hands any time in the spring. And what happens to get that watermelon to you? I'll start in the field where the farmers are going to grow the crop. And that is a commodity that I work a lot with, that particular commodity in this in this region of North Florida.
But let's take it all the way up until it's now, it's ready to harvest. And so, the watermelons are hand harvested by a labor crew. And, and this is one of the first struggles is making sure that we can find sufficient trained labor to do some of these very specific tasks. So, you can imagine how hard it is to pick out a watermelon that's perfect in the grocery store, imagine out in the field trying to figure out, is this one ripe or not? So, these are pretty highly trained individuals with a lot of experience to be able to make that determination.
Once they harvest in the field where they can actually cut the stem away from the rest of the plant, those watermelons are then hand loaded onto either trucks, field trucks or busses that are modified. So, the watermelons are loaded into either a truck or a bus and they are taken from the field to a packing house area.
And at the packing house, the fruit are again handled one at a time. And then they're going to be cleaned. In some cases, they might need to be washed, but they're going to be cleaned in the packing house and, and then separated out by different sizes.
Both in the field and in the packing house, the farmers today have pretty stringent food safety protocol that need to be followed. And so, they keep records of all of those steps along the way, a very complex and very intensive part of the farms today that we didn't have when I was growing up on the farm. But that's a very important piece of the puzzle today. The fruit are, after they're sized, are then packed in a cardboard bin that is typically on top of a wooden pallet.
Tory Moore [00:07:06]
And that's exactly what you see at the grocery store, right? That's the same bin. Okay. Yeah.
Bob Hochmuth [00:07:11]
Now we've got the bin just like it's going to be when it gets, gets to the grocery store.
But one of the interesting things that happened was, and this will be part of the supply chain issue, we had a hard time finding cardboard bins and we had almost an impossible time finding wooden pallets last year in particular. The last two years it has been that, that's been one of those areas in the supply chain that the farmers had a hard time finding a sufficient amount of both of those products.
So, the pallets then are loaded onto a semi truck that is typically going to be refrigerated. And then that truck, semi truck is going to head out and a lot of the watermelons that are grown in Florida are shipped to destinations up in the Northeast. So, it might get to Baltimore, Boston, New York, something along those lines.
Once it reaches the destination, the destination typically is going to be a regional distribution center for one of the chain stores. So, they're not delivering directly to the store. They're delivering to another piece of the, of the market chain that has these regional distribution centers.
And then from there, it would find the final destination to the grocery store where you're going to be able to see the product on the floor and you're going to be able to, to wonder which one it is that I got to pick here. And I think this is the one.
Tory Moore [00:08:28]
Right. And so I'm thinking about, you know, it's obviously a perishable product. It's not something that's canned. So how long would it be from being, you know, cut off the vine to getting to a grocery store? How long is that process typically?
Bob Hochmuth [00:08:41]
We're going to get that watermelon in most cases, from the time it's harvested in the morning until it's loaded on the semi-tractor trailer at the farm, within the same day or within 24 hours. So, it's a very fast process to get it from the farm to the semi-truck. And then depending on how far that truck is going to go, it and any other troubles that are along the way. If you're going to buy a fresh watermelon in the Northeast, the chances are it came out of Florida. You're looking at three, four, maybe five days at the most.
Tory Moore [00:09:10]
Wow. So when we think about that, and we think about all the different working parts of how, you know, this this supply chain can be really sensitive because that is a really quick turnaround time. So, it's not like, oh, I've got a couple months to find some more pallets. Like you said, it's quick. You have days to get this crop from the farm to its final destination.
Bob Hochmuth [00:09:31]
Yes. And I think that's one of the unique things about Florida is that our, our, our ag industry for fresh fruits and vegetables is just that – it’s fresh fruits and vegetables. There's not a lot of processing here in Florida, which I think created some of the challenge that we, that we've had over the past two years.
We don't have processing facilities to speak of here. So, makes it even more crucial to Florida because we're basically driven on a fresh product, whether it's lettuce or cantaloupes or watermelons or cucumbers or squash, sweet corn, whatever it is, you know, the citrus industry, we do have some processing there with juicing. But I think the point is it's a little more complicated for us because we, we depend so much on, on fresh product.
Christa Court [00:10:18]
Tory, I would just add, there's there are several things that Bob just walked through that has to happen in order to get that watermelon to the store, right? You have to have input goods and services this entire time in addition to the labor that's able to do it, in addition to having it all happen at just the right time to make sure that it's there within 3 to 6 days.
So, there's a lot that could go wrong in that process, whether it's a pandemic or anything else. Pallets aren't available. The cardboard isn't available. A worker is out sick. Maybe there's a change in regulations on how far or how long the truck driver can drive to get it up to the northeast from Florida. All of those things factor in when you see how fast it gets there.
Tory Moore [00:11:02]
That was actually my next question is, so now that we understand the supply chain and specifically maybe some struggles with watermelon, how do these shortages happen otherwise that's maybe not directly related to COVID sometimes? What else causes these shortages, Christa?
Christa Court [00:11:18]
I would say there's a, there's a change in any of those things that we just went through, right? If there's a change in labor ability, something like immigration changes, it could be something as simple as someone got sick and threw off the process.
If the packing house supervisor must be there in order for things to happen and they are the one out sick, and even if all of the workers are there, if something is slowed down, anything supply related that you need, -- we just mentioned the pallets, we mentioned the boxes --but maybe it's paper. You know, you couldn't print the appropriate forms for some of the food safety regulations that Bob is talking about.
Things go wrong all the time, but something a major hiccup happening at any one of those parts of the supply chain can cause a ripple effect further down the supply chain.
Tory Moore [00:12:08]
Right. So, I think a lot of people that notice now, you know, couple of years into the pandemic that they still see shortages, ask is this still a COVID, I guess, side effect or is this something else?
So, you're explaining a little bit about how it can be a multitude of other things but so are the, are the shortages we experience now still from delays two years ago or are they new?
Christa Court [00:12:30]
I would say they're probably related and unrelated. It's probably a variety of things, right? We don't know.
Having never experienced a pandemic in our lifetimes with the available data that we have on hand, don't really know exactly how long it would take for all of these ripple effects to make their way through the system, right?
On top of that, there's all sorts of other issues that have happened in the meantime, right? The situation between Ukraine and Russia. There's a situation with input prices for a lot of the items that farmers are using that may or may not be related to COVID that's happening at the same time.
So, I think there's a lot of things going on and we're not, it's really hard to tease out exactly which effect which one has had on what particular supply chain issue right now.
Tory Moore [00:13:22]
That makes sense. And Bob, anything you're seeing on the farm level that's either, again, related to COVID or not, that is still causing some food disruption?
Bob Hochmuth [00:13:30]
Yes. Yeah, I think Christas covered it really well. But I think the bottom line that we're learning is it takes time for a full recovery. There's a lot of dominos that happen in other parts of the world. And one of the things that I think about, I hear at farmers that most of the tractors today are operating in a GPS computerized type of a system, right?
So, computer chips, we can't -- something goes wrong, we need to repair the tractor and it's the same dilemma that we have in or we had in terms of vehicles being able to get to the car lot, the supply chain for repairs and those kinds of things, the farmers are really good at doing their own repairs. They're really handy in terms of trying to do as much of that as possible. But if at some specific part, they still are dependent upon that supply chain to be able to have it available at their local store, to be able to, to put it into gear.
The other thing that was, has made it really complex and one of the highest increases in cost has been with fertilizers. And so, the whole fertilizer cost issue and other similar kinds of inputs are, are really, really struggle right now as much as twice the input that we normally would expect. And a lot of these farm equipment and tractors and things are operating on fuel. So, we all see what's happening to us personally, it's the same thing, if not worse, on a farm situation.
So, but back to the fertilizer piece, certain elements have been more difficult or impossible to get from other parts of the world.
Tory Moore [00:15:04]
So like ingredients of fertilizer?
Bob Hochmuth [00:15:06]
Yeah, specifically specific, whether it's potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus or whatever it is, so that in many cases, the fertilizer formulas or the recipes that they've been used to using, they've had to make some modifications there because they can't get exactly what they wanted to use and have been able to use in the past.
So, so yeah, I think that we are still in the recovery mode from a lot of the COVID kinds of issues. But it just it just takes a lot of time and I don't think we're quite there yet to get entirely out of that, although I think there is other complications as Christa said that make it really difficult to make that full assessment now.
Christa Court [00:15:44]
Yeah. And Bob, I would add that the, you know when we say the COVID effect, right, we're talking both about the effects of the disease and health had on individuals, right, like whether people got sick or whether we needed to make changes in how we did business to follow safety protocols.
But there's also the effect of decisions that we've made in order to respond to the pandemic, right, whether that was locally, state level, national level. Some of this was driven by needing to -- there was a shutdown period, right? Right. But you don't just flip a switch and turn an industry off or turn an industry back on. So as much trouble as we had in the initial stages of the pandemic related to, you know, something like the demand has disappeared for particular crops that were in peak harvest season in Florida because the cruise ships were not sailing, the theme parks were shut down. The restaurants were largely takeout only if people were eating more at home. It was the same way when you try to open it all back up, right? Not everybody is ready to supply things in high demand when there was low demand for a several month period. So, I think just just looking at the speed at which we can respond to a shutdown and open back up after a shutdown, plus all of the ripple effects that that had is what we're living through.
Tory Moore [00:17:10]
Right. And like we said, again, I know I'm driving this one, this point home pretty hard here, but that turnaround time is, is really quick. Again, you can't just say, oh, well, we'll wait a couple of weeks and see what happens. We'll wait through the shutdown and then we can pick this crap and get it, get it to the grocery store, right? It doesn't it doesn't work that way.
When it's ready, it's ready and then that's it. So, Bob, I know you worked hand in hand with farmers through some really tough COVID shutdown situations and supply chain disruptions. Can you tell us a bit about those disruptions or what farmers did to overcome them?
Bob Hochmuth [00:17:42]
Yeah, I think we tried, they tried as much as possible to get ahead of the game and, and try to find sources of supplies like pallets or, or the cardboard boxes to ship in to try to get ahead of those.
But it's it was, it was really difficult for us here in the initial stages in Florida because of the perishability aspects of things. And I, and if I go back to the watermelon example, we're, we are geared up in the watermelon industry to ship large amounts of product out of this out of the state. So, if you take our industry -- watermelons grown in Florida -- it's let's say 25,000 acres and that means that for every acre there's at least one semi-tractor trailer load going somewhere.
So, I think communicating with each other was, I believe, one of their survival mechanisms to, to work with each other to try to find out, hey, I found this particular trucking company would be able to have some trucks coming in. So, I think that the industry pulled more closely together to communicate with each other, to be able to find the answers to the solutions because everybody needed the same thing. And, and so I think that the farmers, even though they're selling the same product, they're not really, I don't think they're looking at each other as adversaries. They look at each other as a member of a real strong connection here with in the case of watermelons. So, they wanted to help each other.
Another example of the disruption is even from our university standpoint, that we're used to being able to conduct research on an ongoing basis. And during the pandemic, a lot of that research had to be modified, put on hold or shut down. Our ability to get out to the farm to try to help the farmer identify pest problems or some disease that was moving in on them was, was, was more and more difficult. But yeah, we found ways to be able to get out and, and try to, try to help. So, I think part of the solution was, was of the survival mechanism among the farmers was to help with each other to try to pull through.
Christa Court [00:19:47]
You know, just the sheer volume of product that comes out of Florida. So, we have the 47,000 farms that are operating on 9.7 million acres that produce more than $10 billion of product every year.
So, you can you know, people think of a farm, they may not think of the size of farm or the amount of products that can come off of even a small farm here in Florida. There’s several semi loads of product per farm every day during the harvest season. So, it's, it's not something that you can switch the market yourself to or find some new consumers. It's a really, really mind-boggling amount of feed that we're producing and we're producing enough food to feed more than Florida.
When the pandemic hit, we did a survey very early on. So, during that shutdown period, I would call it, so March to mid-May, we had several hundred survey responses that were able to estimate it was about $895 million of losses just in that period for farmers here in Florida.
So, again, some of them are producing something that's maybe not a food product, but many of them are and we were able to break it down by commodity group, let's say. So that was about $27 million worth of animal products, things like milk, honey, eggs. It was $120 million of livestock or aquaculture products. And so, $137 million of vegetables, melons and potatoes, and then about $204 million of fruits and nuts.
So, it was just this, you know, even though that is only a portion of what we produce throughout the year, if you happen to be a farmer that had a product that was being harvested in that period and it was intended for the fresh market, there was nowhere else to go. And a lot of them were shifting to do things like donate that food to something like a food bank or a food pantry. But again, the sheer volume of products that we were producing, the amount of money that's invested in tending it and getting it ready to get off the farm just made it impossible for that to, for that type of market to really absorb every thing that it produced.
Tory Moore [00:22:08]
Right. So, can you help narrow in a little bit on that time of year aspect? I heard lots of people make comments that this was the worst time of year, the shutdowns originally for Florida farmers. Why is that? Why was that timing so catastrophic?
Christa Court [00:22:24]
It's peak harvest season in southwest Florida for a lot of those fresh fruits and vegetables. So, they -- these producers have already spent all of the money that they spend during the year to get this product ready for the market, and they were at that stage of picking it or pulling it off the vine and sending it out on these semi-trailers that Bob has described. And again, because it's a fresh product, because we don't have very much processing capacity here in the state, and even other states didn't have excess processing capacity for this volume of products. There was, there was really nowhere else for it to go.
Bob Hochmuth [00:23:03]
I think the other part of that is we're you know, we're one of the one of the more southern states that have perishable product. So, when you talk about products coming in, as Christa was alluding to, that, you know, March, April, May, where to some degree we have in the United States the lion's share of that market. We're competing with Mexico and other places perhaps, but we're one of the states that is going to be coming into the marketplace first. And so that fresh product, it's not even planted yet in many cases in New York or Nebraska or other, other states. They're not even in the game yet. We are.
Tory Moore [00:23:32]
Bob Hochmuth [00:23:33]
So, we have that late winter, early spring piece, not to ourselves anymore, but we have, we're one of the few. And that's why I think that it was so excruciating to us, is we were in the peak. Well, the other states that were further up the line that might grow watermelons in South Carolina or Maryland or somewhere else, they had time to react to that, whereas we were, we were ready to harvest and here we go, boom. Now there's no place to, there's no place to take it.
I think the other interesting fact for us here in Florida is that only, it's less, less than 10% I think it's about 8%, Christa, if I'm not wrong that is marketed directly to the consumer in the, in a situation when the pandemic hits, we still got 90% of the other product to go. And we can't, you know, you can't shove it down the, the throat of the U-pick operations that are around there. That’s just that's not the way that they're geared.
Tory Moore [00:24:25]
Bob Hochmuth [00:24:26]
So, I think if anything it’s this, it's this volume of product that we have to move and it's, and it's not set up to do much else with. It's a fresh product. We can't get it processed. And that was the timing was, was, was really critical for March and April when, when we got into the harvest in the northern part of the state that year, we were in better shape than they were down in the south, in the southern part. We had we had two months to get this figured out and reacted to and, and so we thought that this was going to be a total disaster for North Florida watermelon farmers. But in the end, it was actually a very good year because people perceived that the value of a water, fresh watermelon, in New York or Baltimore was really high value.
So, we were able to, we were able to ship that. And part of it is also that's a, that's a product that's mostly sold to the grocery stores, not to institutional markets. And so that, that was you know, that was one of the other positives is that we could move it to a place where the grocery stores were able to move it and not, you know, the the cruise ships and other institutional schools and things like that. They were shut down.
Tory Moore [00:25:31]
Bob Hochmuth [00:25:32]
Well, fortunately for that product, we had other alternatives. And people perceive that as a high value.
Tory Moore [00:25:50]
So, when we're talking about how hard, you know, specifically parts of Florida but South Florida were hit, you know, we heard a lot about or saw imagery of entire fields of crops going bad. So, I know sometimes farmers got some feedback like, you know, why? Why are they just letting it go bad in the field? I mean, as far as you can see, it would just be maybe a crop rotting. So why was that happening? Can you explain a little bit about that? Christa, you can start off.
Christa Court [00:26:19]
Well, I answered those questions a lot very early in the pandemic because they were often showing those pictures while they were interviewing us about the numbers, you know of what was going on in Florida. And a lot of it is just how labor intensive and input intensive farming is.
From the moment that you plant that seed, or an animal is born, to the moment that it leaves the farm gate, there's, there’s costs, right? And so, if something is at, at harvest or just about to be harvested, there's a cost every day to the farmer of making sure it's available there to get on to the truck and to get off of the farm.
If that market for where it was destined for, after it leaves the farm, has been shut down, and, you know it's not opening up in the time periods that you need it to open up, and if we're typically talking days to get the product off the farm and into the grocery store, and you're shut down for at least a month, there is, there was nowhere for most of that product to go.
So, so asking a farmer to keep spending money every single day in order to get it onto a truck when it had no destination. They couldn't do it, right?
Tory Moore [00:27:25}
It doesn't make any sense.
You couldn’t ask that of somebody, and it doesn’t make any sense. But again, it's, it's something that people didn't know and they didn't know about the volume of products that we produce in Florida and they didn't know about how costly it is to produce some of these products. And they didn't think about the fact that 90% or more of these products go into that food away from home market. And, you know, the ones that are produced here in Florida, at least several of them are 80, 90% of that particular product goes into the food away from home category. And those were mostly shut down.
Tory Moore [00:28:10]
Right. So, we did see some farmers pivot and do boxed vegetables and things like that. Did that really move the needle for them on helping with some of those losses?
Bob Hochmuth [00:28:22]
Yeah, I think it varies from farm to farm, but in some cases, it did move the needle a little bit and I think that was where the innovation came about within that farm and the rallying of the community to suddenly figure out how we, how are we going to put all this together? How can I help the farmer down the road and to be able to get this product boxed and packaged and have the cars in a line come through and pick up a box of squash and cucumbers or whatever it might be. So absolutely in some cases that did help move the needle on some of those larger operations.
But if you take a larger acreage farm, you're talking about needing to move hundreds of thousands of ears of corn or, you know, cucumbers or whatever it is. And so, there's a, there is a piece where we can move some, but we're not going to be able to move everything that, that would have normally been in the normal food chain. And we're just not going to be able to do that.
But those farms that were set up to do direct sales, whether it's a u-pick operation or were already doing on farm sales, those farms typically did, did really well during that period because it was a way for people to get out, get fresh fruits and vegetables from their community, and maybe never have to leave the car, in the case of some of those some of those set ups. Or they could go out and do u-pick blueberries up here and in this, in this area.
By the time that we were, our season was coming in, in June and July, well, by that time they figured out the hand-washing thing, they figured out the spacing and they figured out how to take care of packaging so that there wasn't a lot of, you know, connection. They were, they were removing a lot of those food safety and other pandemic kinds of risks. And then people were ready to get out.
Tory Moore [00:30:12]
Bob Hochmuth [00:30:13]
And so, if you could provide them a safe, a safe environment to take the kids to whatever it is, in many cases, that was a real blessing in the community that there was a place where people could go. So, I think, again, it's another example of the diversity of our agricultural enterprises here in Florida.
Christa Court [00:30:32]
And I think we were talking a lot about COVID here. But it's not just a COVID specific issue. If we happened to have something go wrong at peak harvest season for the, any of the multiple harvest seasons here in Florida, right, we grow a lot of different things from South Florida up to the Panhandle, and it could happen at any time.
So, the same thing is true where we're really providing products all along the east coast. We're providing those fresh fruits and vegetable products and to ask someone to pivot to selling only to Floridians or only in their community, or it's just, it's, it's a lot of product to have to move. You couldn't eat all of the product in Florida even if we wanted to, so.
Tory Moore [00:31:15]
Yeah. Well like you said, you know, Bob, you're talking about semi-trucks worth of watermelons. I don't know how many watermelons can fit in a semi-truck, but I know that even if you had a two hour wait to pick up a watermelon from your local grower, you’re not, we’re not going to hit that number, I mean, it’s just not, it’s not realistic.
Bob Hochmuth [00:31:34]
No, and I think that to answer that question, because you are curious about how many watermelons there's about 40,000 pounds of watermelons on our, on a semi tractor trailer and depending on supplies, you might have 2500 plus or minus, fruit on that on that one semi truck. So, there's a, there's a lot to move and with the number of acres, if you take that time, 25 or 30,000 acres, you know, over a period of time, it's a lot of product to move.
And I think the other area that was also involved with this would have been the food banks. So, there definitely was a pivot to move more products into food banks. But it's the same thing. The food banks themselves are not nearly as big as a regional distribution center for some of the major chains. So, there's only, only so many semi trucks of anything that a local food bank is really geared to do. And in some cases, these products, because they're perishable, they need to be refrigerated. So, it's not just, hey, I got a big warehouse here, bring it on and let's, let's deal with it. In many cases, it's because it's highly perishable it’s got to be – the post-harvest handling is, is really, really critical.
Christa Court [00:32:42]
We’d like to come up with these comparisons that, you know, really make people be able to understand the volume a little bit better. So the last year this would have been the period right around COVID for the 2019 2020 harvest season. So, the total citrus production in Florida, so that's including oranges and grapefruit and a small amount of specialty citrus, when it would actually fill up ten of these ultra large container vessels. So, we're used to seeing these giant ships that have multiple cargo containers on them and we've heard about the ones stuck in the Suez Canal and we're seeing them all over.
So, every single year, just with citrus products, we can fill ten of those ultra large, the biggest size container vessels that each fit about 15,000 of these 20 foot cargo containers. So that's every single year. 90% of that roughly goes into orange juice or citrus juice or orange juice and grapefruit juice. And we produce about 701 million gallons of juice. And so our comparison for that last year was that, that volume of juice, could if we could fuel airplanes with orange juice, but if we could, it would fill up the fuel tanks of more than 100,000 Boeing 737 every year.
Tory Moore [00:34:02]
That's a lot of orange juice.
So, I know that you do not have a crystal ball, Christa, and you've alluded to this a little bit, but could we expect these shortages to happen again? I mean, they're still happening here and there. I mean, how long can we expect this to happen? It's kind of two questions in one, but.
Christa Court [00:34:20]
We should not worry only about the next pandemic. I would assume that supply chain disruptions do happen. They're probably going to happen regularly. Hopefully, they don't happen on a massive scale regularly. But we should be going through, you know, a preparation process or a risk management process every single year to say, “Okay, let me look at my supply chain. Let me learn about my supply chain. Where do I see a place that maybe I'm getting that one particular product only from one supplier every single year? And if that supplier had an issue, I would have a major issue.” And just being able to assess what would happen if the next supply chain disruption comes along and am I prepared for it. So, I think that should be part of everybody's risk management strategy.
We analyze multiplier effects all the time, and one of the things that I remind people of is that we do a pretty good job of having an estimate of a direct effect so that, that $895 million of impact from COVID just in that March to May period that I talked about the first time, we're relatively confident in that number. But any time that we talk about multiplier effects, which is really looking at how does that first change affect the rest of the economy through things like purchases of inputs, goods and services, through changes in household expenditures, because you had maybe you lost your job, maybe your hours got cut back on the job, you're going to change how you spend your money in the local community. And we often say that I know the time period for that direct effect. I have no idea how long it will take for all of the different rounds of spending to play through the supply chain.
For the farmer that lost a lot of product, maybe that affects their spending for the next season. So, maybe they're not spending as much as they normally would on fertilizer or on seed or on labor that the person who they were paying, they now don't have the same amount of money to spend on entertainment, for food themselves and all of those things just cycling through.
But the time period on that cycle is something that we don't really have a good handle on. There are some economists that are looking at that, but I can't answer that question for exactly how long it might last for this particular event.
Tory Moore [00:36:49]
With that said, what can we do as a shopper to ease these shortages and issues in the future?
Christa Court [00:36:56]
So, I'll come back to that preparation comment, right, or risk management. We go through this a lot as Floridians, right? This is not the first time that there has been panic buying of a particular item. Now, I would not have predicted that toilet paper would be that item during a pandemic, but this is what we're handed.
But we do often see what we might call panic buying of things like gasoline or food right before a hurricane is forecasted to hit the state. I would say if we were prepared ahead of time, we know a hurricane might hit Florida, or at least most people in Florida that are not brand new to Florida should expect any time during hurricane season a hurricane might affect your part of the state. We're not going to evacuate. What types of things should we be stocked up on? And do that slowly as we lead up to hurricane season instead of all of us going out and trying to fill our fuel tanks to potentially evacuate the night before the storm is about to hit. And we wouldn't run into a lot of those issues.
So, I would, I would just say be prepared as much on the consumer side as you are on the producer side. I'm not suggesting that every one of us needs to have a garage full of supplies every day of the year, but thinking ahead and managing those types of risks appropriately.
Tory Moore [00:38:22]
So, I always like to ask before we go. What is one thing that you wish people knew about food shortages in the supply chain and if they forgot everything else we talked about today, what do you want them to remember? So Bob, I’ll have you go first.
Bob Hochmuth [00:38:35]
I think that to, to make sure that people understand the capacity of our American farmer or our Florida farmer, I think is really, really important. And that they're only a small part, perhaps in some cases, of the overall food system. So that's just the production side that Christa talked about, all the different steps. They're the, they're the producer and they represent less than 2% of the population in the United States. But here in Florida, it's actually even less than that. About 0.7% of all of the population in Florida are farmers themselves. So, it's a very small segment of our population that has the capacity to move an incredible amount of, of high quality product.
Tory Moore [00:39:23]
Christa Court [00:39:24]
Now I think I would just encourage people to learn more about where their food comes from and to notice that there might be differences in that supply chain between products, between geographies of where it comes from. And, and just there was, you mentioned the videos of of destroying the products, and there was a lot of negative feeling toward the farmer because of that. But that was certainly not the right part of the supply chain necessarily to even be directing that at, right?
So, I would just say learn where your food comes from. We would be happy to provide information on how it gets there, what was involved, and why it might not be the farmer that is to blame if you don't see what you want on the grocery store shelf.
Tory Moore [00:40:13]
Right? Because it is complicated. And I think you've done a great job summarizing it today and explaining some of the difficulties.
So, thank you both so much, Bob and Christa for coming on the show today and for your time. I think it was really valuable. And I know I learned a lot. I hope some of our listeners did as well.
That's it for our episode of Food is our Middle Name podcast. To learn more about food shortages or the supply chain and how COVID-19 impacted our food system, you can check out additional resources and episode notes.