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Distribution

Broadly, our research is linked to the research of the Consumption and Production groups, and focuses on commodity distribution, and more specifically, food supply chains. Our over-arching objective is to develop and refine site-specific and regional food product supply chains that enable our research team to gain an understanding of how Northeast regional farm and food establishments function.
Boxes of produce and eggs at a wholesale distribution center. Credit: USDA

Boxes of produce and eggs at a wholesale distribution center. Credit: USDA

There are four parts to our research:

  • First, we are conducting in-depth interviews with supply-chain members (producers, processors, distributors, retailers) to identify and characterize site-specific supply chains of the foods in the project’s market baskets. We will prepare case studies of the chains for two market basket foods in each store. We will use this information to:
    • discover the salient interactions among participants in supply chains and markets,
    • establish a baseline to measure progress over time, and
    • identify potential changes/improvements the supply chains might make to increase the availability of healthier versions of these foods from regional sources.
  • Second, we will build on the information gathered in the case studies to formulate nested mathematical optimization models that consider cost minimization (e.g., farmers and processors), utility/profit maximization (e.g., distributors or consumers), and market equilibrium (interactions among multiple stakeholders), all subject to natural, social, economic/financial constraints or environmental conservation goals, along the selected regional and store-specific food supply chains. For various foods, the model will identify optimal distribution structures (transportation, processing and retailing) inside the Northeast that minimize the cost of three primary activities:
    • growing the product;
    • packing, processing and storing it; and
    • transporting it.
    MITERS stands for Multiregional Input-output Tables for Economy-wide and Regional Studies.
  • Third, we are compiling an integrated food system database and simulation model called MITERS that will enable the research team to gain an unprecedented understanding of how Northeast regional farm and food establishments function. Consumers in the region also rely on food produced in other U.S. regions and worldwide, so MITERS is compiled as a national system of regional input-output tables that describes regional food supply chains from farm production to food consumption. The complete MITERS data system represents a combination of primary and secondary data sources and model generated statistics. With MITERS, distribution team researchers are able to assess the relationship between the purchasing choices of food consumers and the global food system that accommodates these choices. For example, if more land is brought into the production of vegetables within the Northeast region, model simulations using the MITERS database will illustrate the extent to which this new regional production will displace the seasonal supplies from other U.S. regions and from international imports.
  • Fourth, using the national and regional supply chain optimization models, our research will perform scenario simulations to inform policy. The regional product-specific supply chain models will be used to simulate the impact of interventions intended to facilitate access of healthy foods by underserved communities on producers, processors, distributors and consumers in the Northeast. MITERS is calibrated using a prevailing model of spatial equilibrium that accounts for both consumer and producer behaviors and so it is also suited for use in various "what if" scenario analysis, for example:
    • Working closely with the Production team, MITERS can be used to help assess the capacity of the Northeast region to increase its food production and its cost effectiveness.
    • Working closely with the Consumption team, assessments of how regional consumer purchasing decisions would adjust to changing price and product choices accompanying a more robust regional food system can be used with MITERS to evaluate the viability of expanding food production in the region.
    • Integrating the work of all three research teams and the policy expertise of several project members, existing policy, technology, and institutional barriers to expanding food production in the region can be considered to assess potential policy options for addressing possible under (sub-optimal) use of food production resources in the region.
    • Developing a close linkage of MITERS to the detailed supply chain modeling work of the Distribution team and to the case study work at the project sites will allow for the assessment of food security implications for the region’s underserved populations in the scenario analysis being considered.

Our work is very much a team effort. This research component is led by Miguel I. Gómez at Cornell University. Also at Cornell University, Oliver Gao focuses on transportation systems and sustainable food systems. Kate Clancy, an independent consultant, focuses on supply chain analysis and linkages to the production and consumption groups. Pat Canning is located at USDA-ERS in Washington, D.C., and along with a research associate Hamideh Etemadnia at Penn State University, develops the MITERS data system and uses it to evaluate various components of the US food system. Elaine Hill and Xi (Alex) He, graduate students at Cornell University, assist in model development and supply chain analysis.