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Science and Innovations

NAU Research Shows U.S Supply Chains Still Intact In Midst Of Coronavirus

Christopher Corneschi/WikiCommons

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a spike in demand for food and other basic supplies, but new research from Northern Arizona University shows supply chains are still intact. The FEWSION project uses big data to map the sustainability of food, water, and energy systems in the United States. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with project lead Ben Ruddell about how those systems remain resilient in a crisis.

Melissa Sevigny: Just starting with the broad question, how has the COVID 19 pandemic affected supply chains?

Ben Ruddell: There’s been a lot of stress on supply chains in the United States for a couple of reasons. One of those reason is that a lot of our trade with other countries, especially China, have been under stress due to the virus…. So we’ve had to find new sources for things…. But, so far so good, for the most part our national supply chains are holding up. They are proving to be pretty resilient. The country is very large and we have a lot of different producers and a lot of different distributors of most of our goods and services, so even if one of them is affected, they’re not all going to be affected at the same time. They can support each other and they can be adaptable to keep up with demand.

When you walk into the grocery stores we’re seeing a lot of empty shelves, what’s going on with that?  

What’s going on is there’s been a surge in demand. It’s not that we’ve had any shortages developing on the supply side…. The issue is people have been buying more food, they’ve been buying more necessities, and they’ve been stocking up. I would expect during coming weeks for that to subside. You really don’t need to be worried about those empty shelves, because that’s just a sign that people have been buying a lot of stuff lately and once they catch up and have their cupboards stocked, that demand is going to start dropping back to more normal levels. On the other hand, the medical supply chain is under a lot of stress. That’s because there’s actually going to be increasing demand for medical equipment and protective equipment in the coming months.

And how about food, specifically? Of course, consumers are interested in making sure there’s fresh food on the shelves, but there’s also the question of the fact that Arizona supplies a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables to other places in the country.

During spring and also winter, a lot of fraction of the nation’s fresh produce and table-ready food comes from California and Arizona and northern Mexico. People all over North America depend very heavily on the food sector here in the Southwest. It’s very important we protect that food security right now, because the health of those workers on farms and in the food processing sector is paramount right now.

Are there any other takeaways that we missed, that we haven’t talked about yet?

I mean, everybody’s at home right now, people on their couch, they’re working from home, some people have lost their jobs. There’s a lot of fear and there’s a lot of stress. I think it’s very natural to be concerned when you see that your grocery store doesn’t have some of the normal stuff that it has.  What I think people need to know right now that so far our supply chains are doing really well... Overall the supply chains of most sectors of the economy are really not under stress and functioning normally.

Thanks for taking the time to speak today, I appreciate it.

Thanks for your hard work as well.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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