Editorial: Prepare for more food chain price pain

When food chain dysfunction collides with logistics chain disruption, sticker shock is coming soon to a grocery store near you.

Local food chain dysfunction issues were brought into sharp focus in the wake of the heat dome weather phenomenon that briefly baked Vancouver and the rest of the Pacific Northwest. Aside from visiting record high temperatures upon the region, it flipped the drought switch on in a lot of areas already heading into their seasonal drying cycle. 

An early and extended drying cycle is not good for agriculture in any region, as the ongoing drought in the American West in general and California in particular is illustrating. 

In the wider world, dry weather has also hurt agriculture in Brazil, Argentina, Russia and other major food exporting countries. Meanwhile, international trade and logistics chain operations suffered colossal disruption at the outset of the global pandemic. 

Economies shut down, container cargo and other shipping companies instituted widespread sailing cancellations. That broke intricate supply chain rhythms and scuppered the marine cargo sector’s ability to efficiently respond to the unexpected spike in demand for consumer goods that occurred in 2020’s second half. 

The result: port cargo congestion, supply chain chaos and higher shipping rates. Add in the accompanying rise in fuel prices and complications further along the supply chain that include shortages of cargo containers, warehouse storage space and truck drivers and the cost of moving food and other goods has nowhere to go but up. The International Monetary Fund notes in a recent blog that international food producer prices increased 47.2% between April 2020 and May 2021. 

Among the lessons here for B.C. and the rest of Canada is the need to improve local food production, processing and distribution because food security in the face of global health and environmental challenges needs to become a top priority for the country’s senior levels of government.