Diverse food systems protect against supply backups

A University of Missouri rural sociology professor says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted issues in the food chain.

Mary Hendrickson said the top four food processors in the U.S. make up more than 50 percent of the market.

“This concentration has real impacts for farmers,” Hendrickson said. “So, what we’ve seen in the last few decades, the last three decades, we’ve seen the number of farms decrease and we’ve seen the scale of those farms increase.”

She said in the last 33 years, the average swine farm went from managing 2,500 pigs to over 50,000 now and dairy farms went from 80 cows to 1,300. Hendrickson says because of consolidation in the food market, shutters in the supply chain, like packer shutdowns, are more extreme.

Hendrickson said to solve this, the organization of production and consumption needs to be rethought.

“We’re going to have to think about a diversity of scales and a diversity of different kind of organizations,” she said. “There is no reason that we have to organize the food and agriculture system on a for-profit based, efficiency specialization-based system.”

Hendrickson said multiple approaches are needed to create a more diverse and efficient production system. Hendrickson spoke on a Family Farm Action Alliance zoom call Thursday.

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