How Much Food Supply Is In The System?

March 25, 2016, by Ken Jorgustin

how-much-food-supply-is-in-the-system

Here in the U.S. there is plentiful food on the grocery store shelves. The food supply system is working. At least today it is. But will it always?

Because the supply of food to the cities, urban areas, and suburbia implies that food is being produced and transported in from rural areas or imported, we must recognize that the many complicated systems that make this work are integral to keep the food supply system working. And with complicated systems comes risks…

If the worst happened, how much food supply is in the system to keep everyone fed? And what would happen or how long would it take to ‘fix’ a broken food supply chain?


 
I hope that question itself is enough to motivate some of you to garner your own deep pantry food storage!

But if it’s not, then here’s more:

Food supply chain systems (supply and distribution) are combinations of activities and interrelationships which include:

-production
-handling
-storage
-transportation
-processing
-packaging
-wholesale
-retail
-etc..

These functions (and many additional sub-functions) enable cities, urban areas and suburbia (basically ‘everyone’) to meet their food requirements. Each of these activities (functions) are performed by different ‘players’, and they include:

-farmers
-producers
-assemblers
-importers
-transporters
-wholesalers
-retailers
-processors
-shopkeepers
-vendors
-storage providers
-credit providers
-porterage providers
-packaging suppliers
-etc..

Each of these ‘players’ need their own infrastructure, facilities, employees, and services. Every step of the food supply chain requires human resources and ‘natural resources’. The overall ‘system’ is such that each element within it influences other elements – a sort of ’cause and effect’ and reciprocal relationships.

Consumers ‘pull’ their food demand through the supply chain while food producers and food processors ‘push’ food through the chain.

To complicate these systems further is the current methodology of ‘just in time’ (JIT) which minimizes or eliminates the need for inventory build-up along the many stages of the chain. In other words, very little warehousing – just enough to keep the system working smoothly. Each of the elements within the chain have their own JIT functionality whereby their actions are based on forecast models which may affect their portion of the chain. Things like demand (obviously), profit motives (obviously), season, past history, availability, potential deviations, etc..

As you can begin to see, there’s quite a bit that happens behind the scenes to get food from the farm to your table. And I haven’t even attempted to break down the individual elements to show even more levels within levels…

So, after all that, the question remains “How much food supply is within the system?”

The answer is just enough to keep the entire food supply chain (chains – lots more than ‘one’) flowing smoothly. When you realize that there is little or no warehousing, you might say “What you see is what you get”. In other words, not much. It’s all about ‘flow’.

In the preparedness community it is commonly said that most typical grocery stores would run out of food in about 3 days if the system were to completely shut off. My sense is that this is probably generally accurate – and would vary depending on the store itself, the neighborhood demands, etc.. But suffice it to say that certainly within a week all shelves would likely be bare.

While some super chain stores do have purpose-built warehouse inventory in select locations (e.g. Walmart Distribution Centers), even their inventory is designed to apply just a small buffer to the overall system, and probably wouldn’t last long…

The point is this: The shorter the food supply chain from farm to table – the less risk of disruption for you. Obviously if you had your own farm or garden and if you preserved your bounty for off-season, you can’t get any shorter than that. But it’s when your food comes from South America in the winter (as one example) that the thousands of miles (and every element in-between) becomes a potential risk for disruption.

While everything is working okay right now, who’s to say the apple-cart won’t turn over tomorrow…

…food for thought.

 
If any of you work within any of the food supply chain elements listed above, we would be particularly curious to hear your opinion…