Managing any kind of risk starts with good information, but collecting and managing water use data up the supply chain can be a surprisingly tough nut to crack.
Agricultural supply chains are highly complex. Willoughby, for example, sells to four shippers who wash and bag his greens before moving them quickly up the supply chain to retailers such as Walmart and food service companies that supply restaurants, colleges and other institutions all over the country.
At the end of this supply chain, Willoughby’s greens are sold as branded bag lettuces, comingled with other growers’ greens. That means his farm level water use data is averaged in with many other growers’ data.
“The longer the supply chain, the weaker the connection between the farmer’s management information and the ultimate consumer,” said Daniel Mountjoy of Sustainable Conservation, which led a recent tour of Willoughby’s fields.
Inexact water use data is more of a problem in fragmented supply chains such as Willoughby’s, where each link acts independently and contracts are subject to change.
“My shipper may say I need five acres of red lettuce on May 30,” Willoughby explained, “but when May 30 comes around, they’ll say, ‘Actually I only need half of what you grew.’”
That’s because his shippers are at the mercy of restaurants and grocery store chains’ forecasting models.
Read more at A farm-level view on supply chain water risk
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