The Impact of Changing Weather Patterns on Food Production and How to Mitigate Its Effects
June 12, 2023
The produce industry has always struggled with adverse weather events and their impact on the quality of food production, but lately, we’ve been experiencing changes in overall weather patterns that are making produce quality even harder to predict.
As an example, Salinas Valley suffered heavy rains and flooding in March 2023, destroying crops and delaying spring planting.
The prior year, Salinas experienced outbreaks of both a soil-borne disease and an insect-transmitted virus, causing thousands of acres of lettuce crops to wilt. Increasing temperatures are creating better environments for these diseases and their insect carriers.
Regardless of the cause of these changing weather patterns, one thing is clear: the produce industry is going to need to adapt to whatever quality issues arise to maintain food production quality levels.
How Weather Affects Produce Quality
The most pressing issue with unpredictable weather patterns is crop failure, as we saw in Salinas Valley. Whether through disease, drought, flooding, or other factors, crop yields experience significant losses due to weather incidents.
Other quality issues include:
- Misshapen or undersized produce caused by record-breaking heatwaves and droughts.
- Lower nutritional value for certain vegetables like potatoes because of rising carbon dioxide levels.
- Altered flavor as a result of changes in sugars, acids, and flavor substances brought on by changing weather patterns.
- Food safety issues caused by floods that carry sewage, manure, and pollutants into growing areas.
How These Quality Issues Impact the Produce Market
As weather patterns change, it’s harder for buyers and sellers to predict the produce market and for buyers to adjust sourcing decisions accordingly. We have already seen some of these adverse effects on the market and will likely continue to experience them.
Limited Supply and Increased Prices
Yield losses decrease the available supply and drive up prices. This ultimately results in empty shelves and higher costs passed on to consumers, hindering our ability to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Increased Rejections and Food Waste
Misshapen or undersized produce will likely be rejected and wasted. This also contributes to low supply and high costs, not to mention an increase in food waste that is harmful to the planet.
Reduced nutritional content, altered flavor, and food safety concerns will make fresh produce a less appealing option for consumers, hurting sales at retail stores and foodservice establishments.
How Retailers Are Concerned About the Effect of These Weather Patterns
iFoodDS has spoken with some retailers directly about their concerns with weather and produce quality. The VP of Merchandising for a regional grocer told us that changing weather patterns and their impact on availability, pricing, and quality are some of the things that keep him up at night. We also spoke with a Director of Produce and Floral who said supply has always been a major issue but is becoming more of a concern because of adverse weather. Availability is currently one of his category managers’ biggest challenges.
Ways to Overcome Produce Quality Issues
How can the produce industry adapt to these quality issues? There are a few major strategies that the industry is already using, as well as technology currently in development.
1. Expand Indoor Farming Procurement Options
The indoor farming industry has gained traction in recent years, attracting significant investments. Indoor farming environments are completely controlled and not impacted by weather patterns, making them a promising strategy to maintain produce quality, reduce waste, and practice more sustainable agriculture.
2. Adjust Product Specs to Accept Imperfect Produce When Necessary
Consumers are becoming more conscious of food waste and more accepting of imperfect produce. Some retailers and companies are even embracing misshapen fruits and vegetables and marketing them to consumers. In the future, the entire industry may need to adjust product specs and accept misshapen, undersized, or otherwise “ugly” produce to lower prices and prevent food waste.
3. Donate Rejected Produce Rapidly to Maximize Useable Shelf Life
Companies who maintain stricter specs can still find a home for rejected produce by donating it to local food banks. Avoiding food waste helps reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to some of the adverse weather patterns we’ve been observing. iFoodDS strives to support our customers in their food waste reduction efforts through our produce disposition feature.
Learn More: See how we helped Foodbank Australia achieve a record year in food sourcing.
4. Development of Predictive AI and Machine Learning Tools
iFoodDS spoke with a category manager who expressed that it would be helpful to have predictive information on weather and how that might impact planned promotions. He added that he would like to be smarter about weighing risks.
This kind of predictive capability is quickly becoming a reality. With the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence, we may soon be able to predict produce quality based on connected data points.
iFoodDS is innovating our own platform to collect value-added data and connect the dots between food safety, weather, cold chain, market data, and other factors. With the power of big data and predictive analytics, we will provide unprecedented insight into supply chains, giving our customers a real-time view of product availability, quality, and price. This could be crucial for navigating unpredictable weather patterns in the future.
The produce industry must adapt to weather challenges and continue fulfilling its mission to bring wholesome, high-quality, safe food to consumers. iFoodDS is proud to support the industry in this mission and help create a better food supply.