CATCH THE BUZZ: Food Production in NE changing

Land Use In US North East Changing, So Is Food Production

Alan Harman

Climate change could force a change in food production in the 12 states in the U.S. northeastern region, Tufts University researchers say.

With this in mind, the researchers at the university’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University have evaluated the degree to which the northeast can satisfy the food needs of its residents, a concept known as regional self-reliance.

Their results published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, are based on calculations of regional agricultural land use and production between 2001 and 2010 when more than 100 crop varieties were harvested and livestock production involved all six major species.

The research by the Medford, MA-based university identifying potential vulnerabilities of the 12-state region of Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia.

Project leader Tim Griffin, associate professor and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Friedman School, says food production in the U.S. is concentrated in certain areas, but it is important to explore the ability of all regions to produce food.

“This is certainly the case in the northeast, which has both a high population density and a declining agricultural land base,” Griffin says. “What is the capacity of the northeast region to produce more?”

He says there is substantial diversity in the northeast food system, for crops in particular.

“A different picture emerges when you look at the farmland acreage,” Griffin says. “A small number of crops occupy a large portion of the cropland acreage and almost 40% of that is corn, most of it used for animal feed.

“A small proportion of that acreage produces foods that people eat, such apples and potatoes, although much of it contributes indirectly by supporting livestock production systems.”

Griffin’s team found regional self-reliance to be highest for animal-based products, particularly milk and eggs. The region produces about as much fluid milk as it consumes and about 70% of the amount of eggs consumed. For seafood, the region produces 45% of the amount of shellfish it consumes and 23% of fish. Just under 30% of the amount of chicken consumed in the region is also produced there.

For vegetables, the region produces 26% of the amount of it consumes and for fruit, 18%.

The vegetable crops grown in the largest amount are starchy products such as potatoes and corn. Within the fruit category, the region is most self-reliant for berries, primarily blueberries and cranberries.

Regional self-reliance in the northeast will likely be impacted by two other factors – population growth and dietary choice. The U.S. Department of Commerce predicts there will be an additional two million people living in the Northeast by 2030, an increase of about 3%.

“Regional self-reliance would be impacted if there were to be a shift toward eating more in line with the federal dietary guidelines, which emphasize fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products,” Griffin says.

The researchers say agricultural growth in the region will be challenging because of land use patterns. More than half of the region’s total farmland is located in Pennsylvania and New York, with Maryland accounting for about 20%. Another barrier is the limited supply chain infrastructure, which hampers packaging and distribution.

“Our future research will look at the complex interactions between soil suitability, climate, land use, and infrastructure and explore the policy barriers to agricultural expansion and the incentives that can be provided to address them,” Griffin says.

“First, we need to establish a baseline to look at all of the potential changes. If we are to change the types of foods grown on farms, where would that occur and where would there be the most potential for increased production?”