A Cornucopia of Opportunities for Domestic Produce

By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at Washington State University

This article is part of a series, Climate Friendly Fruit & Veggies, highlighting work from the Fruit & Vegetable Supply Chains: Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Opportunities (F&V CAMO) project, a collaborative research study co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborators include researchers at the University of Arkansas, University of Illinois, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services, and Washington State University. This project seeks to identify and test climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.

A pile of fresh vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, leafy greens and leeks
Eat your fruit and vegetables. Can farmers grow the necessary produce for all Americans to each five servings of fruits and vegetables daily? Photo: Shiela Sund under CC BY 2.0.

Most of our moms urged us to “eat our fruits and vegetables,” and multiple studies confirm this motherly advice. For instance, the U.S. National Institutes of Health recently reported that consuming more fruits and vegetable results in reduced mortality. Unfortunately, the same report tells us what we already know: most Americans don’t consume anywhere near the five servings a day needed for maximum health benefits.

But what if we did? Could America’s farmers grow all of that additional produce? Or would it have to come from overseas? And what about climate change? Will it become too hot or too dry or too wet to grow these crops? Will new pests emerge? And what about all of the new processing and supply chain infrastructure needed to deliver these nutritious foods? How can we do all of this while driving down greenhouse gas emissions in a way that leads to a net-zero food system by the year 2050?

These supply chains are undergoing significant innovation and transformation as a result of multiple drivers, including consumer preference for fresh, locally grown produce, climate change and increased competition for natural resources, cost and availability of labor, private-sector efforts to improve sustainability profiles, and the rise of protected and peri-urban production. All these factors will also likely affect the pathways through which American agriculture can meet the growing needs for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Through the development of novel integrated modeling methods, our research team has identified and tested adaptation and mitigation opportunities for fruit and vegetable crops, with the overarching goal of enhancing the productivity, resilience, and sustainability of domestic produce supply chains. We have used crop, economic, environmental, and life cycle assessment modeling to determine current and future climate impacts on yield, price, and environmental profile of eight fruit and vegetable crops: carrots, green beans, oranges, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet corn, and tomatoes. We have also explored where production regions might shift, and where there are opportunities to mitigate the overall climate impacts of these supply chains.

While our team hasn’t yet answered all the challenging questions listed above, our research does point to many opportunities for successful climate adaptation and mitigation in U.S. fruit and vegetable supply chains. We have previously reported on some of these: remarkable climate resilience, surprising opportunities for food preparation to significantly reduce carbon footprints, the role that consumer waste plays in environmental impact, as well as grower opportunities in carbon markets and around management of water. Now we are planning to directly engage with growers, processors, researchers, Extension personnel and others involved or interested in these supply chains to further explore the various agronomic, economic, and environmental opportunities our research has uncovered. If you are interested in learning more about this research and how to put the findings into action, we encourage you to attend our upcoming webinar series, starting March 8, 2022. Read on for some more reasons to attend.

Upcoming Webinar Series

Drawing of agricultural fields, including rows of vegetables and fruit trees
An upcoming webinar series (see: https://foodsystems.org/event/fvcamo-2022/) will present climate adaptation and mitigation opportunities in US fruit & vegetable supply chains. Image: Layla Tarar, AFSI.
  • Who? Anyone involved – whether directly or indirectly – in US supply chains for these essential foods, and who is interested in receiving actionable information. Direct supply chain participants including growers, processors, and retailers. Those indirectly involved include nutritionists, experts engaged in food system sustainability issues, developers of new fruit and vegetable varieties, researchers, educators, and extension personnel.
  • Why? You will learn how our unique, integrated approach has helped our team tackle a broad range of fundamental questions about future food supply chains that you might want to consider. How will climate change impact future crop yields and prices? Will crop production move to new regions? How will grower profitability be impacted? How will environmental footprints change and what are the biggest opportunities to reduce future environmental impacts?
  • When? Three 90-minute sessions will be held on consecutive Tuesdays in March (8, 15, 22), each starting at 8:30 am PDT. After hearing from the three experts that present that day, the final 30 minutes will be a moderated question and answer session.. Registration is required but the webinars are free to attend. One-time registration allows participation in all three sessions.

Please consider joining us by registering today. And please don’t forget to eat your five servings!

David I Gustafson, Ph.D., is an independent scientist who uses modeling to help food systems meet human nutrition needs in more sustainable ways. He recently joined WSU in an Adjunct Research role and now resides in Bellingham. This #NIFAImpacts research was supported by USDA NIFA Award: 2017-68002-26789.

This article is also posted on the CSANR Perspectives on Sustainability blog.


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