Food security has become a big issue, with stories of food shortages emerging even in the US and Europe. Managing food security requires us to think about our food supply as a complex system.
Covid-19 has broken multiple connections across the global food supply chain, providing us with a stark warning about a system that is both highly efficient and very brittle.
In the coming months, many of the direct impacts of the pandemic on food supply look set to subside as workers return. However, it is likely that the aftershocks to economic activity and global trade will force changes to how food is produced and how we consume it.
Irish agriculture is dominated by dairy and beef production that lies at the centre of global supply chains. In recent decades it has become increasingly specialised and more dependent on more distant markets.
Without the significant imports of cereals and soy sourced in North and South America, Irish production would be severely curtailed; and produce is shipped to Asian and African markets.
The majority of Irish farming families now rely on global geopolitical and economic factors that are difficult to model and can have a rapid and devastating impact on input costs and output prices.
The changing climate is also affecting farmers' ability to predict and manage risks to their production capability.
In recent years, researchers and farm advisors have pointed to milder conditions and a longer grass-growing season as a reason why Irish farmers should double down on existing production models.
The availability of relatively low-cost grass has been presented as the reason our dairy and beef can compete on a global scale. While there is some merit to this, milder winters (on average) are not the only effect of a changing climate.
Grass-based systems where farmers are highly specialised are very vulnerable to extreme weather conditions that are not revealed in data on average temperature: look at the devastating losses caused to Irish farmers by heavy rainfall (November 2019), drought (July 2018) and cold (March-April 2013).
A period of change lies ahead for all of us. Public discourse should place greater emphasis on the connection between Irish food consumers and Irish agriculture.
The scientific effort, business ingenuity and government support that created a highly specialised dairy industry should be used to help Irish agriculture become more resilient.
What will this look like?
A good outcome would be for Irish farmers to be able to create a diverse and sustainable model of production that can tap into local supply chains at lower cost.
This would reconnect our experience of buying food to our largest indigenous industry and help ensure a flexible, reliable and safe provision of local food.
John Garvey is a lecturer in Risk and Finance at UL and the son of a beef farmer from Clare