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Production

Aerial view of PA landscape showing various land uses. Credit: USDA

Aerial view of PA landscape showing various land uses. Credit: USDA

What is the focus of this research area?

In the broadest sense, our research group focuses on production that occurs on farms. Our big-picture objective is to quantify the current and potential capacity of the Northeast region of the U.S. to produce food that meets consumer needs. These products travel through supply chains to consumers at all income levels, as described in Objective 2.

How does this research fit into the overall project?

Our team is responsible for assessing the potential of the region's natural resources (land, climate, water, and soils) to produce food. The Northeast is a populous region with a relatively small agricultural land base. Our research provides a "reality check" for what might be possible for the region to produce. Our estimates of food production capacity will feed directly into the foodshed modeling efforts of the Distribution team. Our assessments provide a frame of reference for comparing the food needs of the region's consumers with the productive capacity of its farms.

What are the activities?

There are three parts to our research:

  • First, we are gathering data to estimate the current production capacity of the Northeast region. This estimate is at the state-level, and includes nearly 200 crop and animal products produced on farms. In addition to establishing a baseline for production, we also compare food production to food consumption, as there are more than 70 million consumers in the region.
  • Second, following the establishment of the baseline, we will evaluate how food production might change under different scenarios in the future, focusing specifically on those products in the market basket. These scenarios include changes in demand for certain foods, increasing population, dietary shifts, land use change, and climate change. One of our primary interests is to think about where specific food crops or animal products might be produced in the future, including production in both rural and urban areas in the region. This is controlled by a complex interaction of soil suitability, climate, land use, and infrastructure. This part of our research uses a number of tools, including computer simulation models and spatial analysis.
  • And third, we look at the relationship between where food is produced and how these products connect to other non-farm businesses in the supply chain, using the concept of ‘clustering.’  We are especially interested in which types of businesses cluster near farms and which cluster near consumers, and also how these relationships have shifted over the past several decades.

Who is involved?

Our work is very much a team effort. This research component is led by Tim Griffin and Christian Peters at Tufts University. At the Urban Design Lab/Earth Institute of Columbia University, Michael Conard and Kubi Ackerman focus on the systems-aspects of the regional food system, and also on urban agriculture capacity. David Fleisher is located at the USDA-ARS in Beltsville, MD, and along with post-doctoral associate Jonathan Resop, uses simulation modeling and spatial tools to assess current and future production areas. Sherri DeFauw, a research associate at Penn State University, works in collaboration with Robert Larkin, USDA-ARS in Orono, ME, using large remotely-sensed spatial datasets (satellite and aerial imagery) along with soils and topography to look at detailed changes in farmland assemblages.

What do we hope to learn/find out?

Here are some of the things we want to learn through this research:

  • What proportion of the region's food is/could be supplied by the region's farms.
  • How much food might be provided through urban agriculture.
  • Whether the region could produce more of the foods needed by all consumers, but especially those in low-income communities.
  • Which of the market basket foods (if any) can be more efficiently supplied through regional food systems.
  • How might climate change might influence the productivity of Northeast agriculture.