Can the Mississippi Delta shore up US food supply in the face of environmental risks?

According to a 2020 report, companies such as Walmart and Kellogg face up to $120 billion globally in costs from environmental risks in their supply chains over the next five years. The food, beverage and agriculture sector could lose up to $17 billion in climate-related losses, assuming the most risk behind manufacturing.

Broadening America's food chain with more produce from outside California, consultants say, could mean that when climate disaster strikes one region, it doesn't disrupt the whole food supply.  The World Wildlife Fund is working on a research and pilot program to do just that, known as the "Next California'' project.

The Mid-Mississippi Delta Region — eastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, southeast Missouri and northwest Mississippi — has a rich farming tradition, mostly commodity row crops such as rice, soybeans and corn. Growing produce would mean a shift to specialty crops. Some, like watermelon, berries and tomatoes, are already cultivated in the region. Still, in order to become a meaningful contributor, production would need to grow to a commercial scale.

Scientists spent approximately two years testing whether 24 types of fruit and produce grown in California could be grown commercially in the Delta. Their conclusion: the region could handle the specialty crops, which included berries, kale, tomatoes and lettuce.

That would make the U.S. food chain more resilient if, for example, wildfire destroyed lettuce crops in California — buyers could rely on lettuce from the Delta. According to an article on cbsnews.com, the region's central location would also mean fresher produce for consumers in nearby regions.


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