The Cross-Border Threat Screening and Supply Chain Defense (CBTS) Center of Excellence, an academic research organization funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is analyzing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on U.S. food and agriculture supply chains and the extent to which those impacts might extend beyond the pandemic.
The pandemic has given the general public a growing awareness of the supply chain and how interruptions can affect their goods and services. CBTS, formed in 2018 by the Texas A&M University System in partnership with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, is tasked with assessing security risks to the global supply chain and helping protect the country’s health and economic security.
The CBTS assists DHS by helping solve critical problems related to detecting and addressing biological threats, advancing novel analytics for timely decision-making, and developing new operational methods to assess national supply chain networks.
“We were established to serve as a conduit for research and to examine potential capabilities to secure the U.S. against threats and hazards without compromising the pace and operational structures of commercial enterprises,” said center director Greg Pompelli, PhD, Bryan-College Station. “The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the actions taken to mitigate their impact presented serious challenges to food and agricultural sectors. They also demonstrated how such events could affect the nation’s security.”
To address these challenges, the CBTS employed a mix of approaches to fully capture the impacts on the food and agricultural sectors, with each project providing insights to expand understanding of the risks faced beyond the pandemic. These include:
— Contracting with researchers at Victoria University through the Center for Accelerating Operational Efficiency at Arizona State University to use modeling to examine the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 on major U.S. agricultural sectors and reduced economic activity.
Using an expanded agricultural sector model, researchers assessed the impacts of labor and transportation constraints in the sectors. This modeling effort helped serve as the basis for examining how post-COVID-19 markets might recover across major U.S. agricultural commodity markets, producers, consumers and federal policy expenditures in the short and long term.
“Market outcomes in 2020 were driven by factors other than the pandemic, such as a surge in crop exports and weather disruptions,” said Matt Cochran, DVM, center research director. “Certain impacts of the pandemic were partly due to policy responses, including sector-specific actions targeting agriculture, fiscal policy, monetary policy and lockdowns. But three of the largest direct impacts of COVID-19 were on fuel markets, meat supply chains and consumer demand patterns.”
Cochran said the combined analysis of these factors provided the center with some of the earliest estimates of the aggregate economic impacts of the pandemic on the U.S. economy and its major food and agricultural sectors.
— Initiating a study with the Anneal Initiative, Inc. to assess other global supply chain threats and risk analysis capabilities, particularly for inputs related to pre-harvest livestock and crop production. The project developed needs assessments that could be used to better understand supply chain risk.
“This included the development of Analytical Requirements and Threat Identification Reports that looked at how U.S. adversaries could potentially manipulate scientific publication processes to negatively impact the U.S. COVID-19 response,” Cochran said. “It also addressed how foreign government efforts could influence operations and information warfare strategies that ultimately affect U.S. and global ag and food sectors.”
— Working with the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri using a modeling system to study the market impacts of COVID-19 on agricultural commodities and provide commodity market simulations. These analyses quantified the pandemic’s impacts on crop, livestock and biofuel markets in the U.S. and international markets.
— Working with the National Bureau of Economic Research to identify emerging risks associated with extended supply chains. A series of projects were initiated to look at potential risks to the U.S. economy associated with the global supply chains. The collaboration was designed to examine the consequences of longer supply chains and identify possible risk-reducing strategies.
“The pandemic and associated shutdown of economic activity in the U.S. drew attention to the consequences of long supply chains, but the focus of this study was not on the pandemic’s impacts,” Pompelli said. “Instead, this project examined the potential risks associated with global supply chains on which the U.S. economy depends.”
Pompelli said CBTS projects have helped identify key aspects of global production networks that are potential sources of vulnerability for essential goods and services and to identify supply chains that place the nation’s economic health at possible risk in the future.
“While these projects were never intended to fully assess the pandemic’s impacts or identify all the emerging issues related to fragile or extended global supply chain issues, they have generated valuable insights and findings,” he said.