Supply chain issues hampering ag on the farm and on the road
The chorus of voices raising concerns over supply chain challenges for U.S. farmers is growing, and their echoes have reached the halls of Congress, where elected officials have held hearings and introduced legislation in the interest of easing farmers’ struggles.
On Nov. 3, the U.S. House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the struggles American farmers are facing as a result of supply chain issues. According to Chairman David Scott (D-Georgia) much of the trouble with the U.S. supply chain can be traced to the coronavirus pandemic, which has altered agricultural business models in many ways.
“We hope it can go away quickly,” Scott said. “We hoped that a year ago, but it’s here. We don’t know how much longer it will be here, but we cannot wait to look at the immediate challenges that face us in order to keep our food supply plentiful and secure.”
Southern Valley Executive Officer Jon Schwalls was among the witnesses at the hearing. Scchwalls detailed increased costs related to COVID-19 prevention, shortages of input supplies like crop protection products and fertilizers, tractor tires and parts, some of which are sitting in ports waiting to be unloaded from ships.
Schwalls told the committee of delays in getting supplies. Where previously crop protection products might take a day to acquire, it now takes 7-10 days. To get fertilizer used to take a week, now it takes three or four weeks. The wait for tractor tires has grown from one day to as long as seven days; tractor parts from one or two days to as long as 14 weeks.
Once the crop is produced, availability of distribution channels is hampered by shortages of truck drivers, warehouse space and shipping containers. Compounding these issues, Schwalls said, is Georgia’s lack of produce processing.
“Today’s consumer and retailer want a flawless product,” Schwalls said. “Currently, if a fruit or vegetable is cosmetically flawed, it is thrown away with no other opportunity for market. The addition of a processing facility would allow products that are currently tossed to be sold in one of four categories: fresh cut, fresh prepared, frozen cut, frozen prepared. A facility like this would make great strides in reducing food waste as well as adding shelf life to these fruits and vegetables.”
Scott said one of the key components of the supply chain difficulties is a shortage of commercial truck drivers. According to the International Foodservice Distributors Association, the U.S. has a shortage of 15,000 commercial truck drivers, and 90% of commercial drivers stay in their jobs less than a year.
“If there is an Achilles’ heel with our challenge, it rests with these huge vacancies in our commercial truck drivers,” Scott said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Raphael Warnock held a roundtable discussion on Nov. 3 with business, port and labor leaders in Georgia on how to mitigate supply chain disruptions. Warnock said nearly 13% of the world’s shipping capacity is currently tied up in delays.
The same day, Warnock introduced the Supply Chain Resiliency Act in the Senate.
“The supply chain is not just the movement of finished goods, but it is also of materials and parts used within the manufacturing process,” Warnock said. “And so, it effects producers and manufacturers and obviously consumers alike.”
Among other things, the bill would provide for an Office of Supply Chain Resiliency at the Commerce Department charged with monitoring, researching, and addressing vulnerable supply chains.