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Supply chain 'disrupted' by COVID-19 pandemic but experts say we're not running out of food

We’ve seen videos of dairy farmers dumping fresh milk and heard about farmers forced to plow under fresh crops... so what’s going on?

NORFOLK, Va. — The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our way of life and it’s also disrupted the food supply chain.

American farmers are plowing under healthy crops and destroying their food supplies, and many are wondering why.

Old Dominion University associate professor of supply chain management Erika Marsillac says firstly, there’s no need to panic.

“No we’re not going to run out of food," she said. “We will have food, there’s no need to panic, there’s no need to ration, there’s no need to stockpile.”

Marsillac explained there are two different supply chains and they’re both experiencing drastic changes.

The first provides food for commercial industries, like restaurants and schools. The second provides food for individual consumers via grocery stores.

“The industrial supply chain, that demand almost disappeared overnight,” Marsillac said. “At the same time, the personal supply chain for food took a huge jump in demand.”

Marsillac said it’s not easy to shift products from one supply chain to another.

“It’s sort of like in the highway when the main interstate gets blocked, all the side roads get stuck," she said.

Because more Americans are eating at home instead of at work, school, or restaurants, farmers are scrambling to figure out how to redirect food to new customers before it spoils.

“Cows keep giving milk, pigs keep getting born, chickens keep laying eggs, some of those things you can’t just stop,” Marsillac said.

“If you have a dairy farm that’s used to supplying the local school district, demand just disappeared. But in the way they were sending it to the school district, it went to a certain route and you can’t just switch that route at a snap of your fingers. ‘Well I used to send 10,000 gallons to local school district, now I need to find 10,000 individual customers to buy those same gallons.’ It’s not an easy switch. It does take time; it does take resources.”

Marsillac said it’s heartbreaking that at a time when more Americans are in need, farmers are struggling to sell food intended for businesses that are now shuttered.

But there is something being done about it.

“The U.S. put together a Farm Aid Bill where they’re redirecting some of those things to food banks. Other countries have done that before regularly, the U.S. is kind of late jumping on that bandwagon," she said.

“The supply chain has been disrupted, just like all our lives have been, but it’s pretty resilient."

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