Where Is Our Food Going?

The Lempert Report
June 29, 2020

There is an app for that!

Microsoft and Purdue University teamed to create an App going county by county  using existing data to show the potential risk to agriculture posed by COVID-19. What they’ve created is called the Purdue Food and Agricultural Vulnerability Index, a publicly-accessible app that estimates the amount of production that is at risk due to a few factors. 

The index culls from Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 data, US census population data, and USDA data on the number of workers and crop production of each county in the country. The index combines all that information to essentially estimate the amount of production that is lost due to farmworkers who have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Modern Farmer reports that by filtering by individual county it allows you to see exactly what that county produces, how many confirmed cases of Covid-19 there have been, and a prediction of the lost amount of production. The index tracks beans, cattle, hogs, chickens, wheat, rice, and vegetables, and estimates lost production by the pound, head, bushel, or acres, depending on the crop.

This allows a sort of bird’s-eye view of the industry at large, which makes it very easy to spy potential problem areas. If the biggest pork-producing county in the country is experiencing a huge number of confirmed cases, the potential loss in production is going to show up, and be obvious to see. 

But, according to Modern Farmer, there are also some issues, in that, for one thing, we have to trust the USDA worker data, which is extremely limited given that estimates of farmworkers without legal status are known to be wildly inaccurate. We also have to depend on the accounting of COVID-19 cases, which varies state by state and is also not terribly accurate. Then there’s the problem that the number of active workers isn’t necessarily the only problem facing food production right now; it’s a big one.

The tool comes at just the right time as we see food prices rising and more shortages on the way.