COVID-19’s Impact Upon Labor and Value Chains in the Agrifood System

55 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2021

See all articles by Martin Kenney

Martin Kenney

University of California, Davis

M. Anne Visser

University of California, Davis

John Zysman

University of California, Berkeley

Date Written: October 24, 2021

Abstract

We explore the impact of automation and digitalization on labor in the US agrifood system during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study considers each of the primary nodes in the system stretching from consumer through grocery stores and restaurants to last-mile delivery, distribution, food processing, farming, and agri-inputs. Not only automation and digitalization, but also the role of platforms such as Amazon, and food delivery firms such as GrubHub, Instacart, and Uber Eats are discussed. For restaurants, we consider not only dine-in restaurants, but also “ghost kitchens”. Furthermore, the possibility that farmers or distributors could disintermediate other nodes and deal directly with consumers is discussed. We conclude that, as a generalization, the further upstream one goes from the consumer, the less immediate and disruptive automation is likely to be for labor. However, our overall conclusion is that, given the current trajectories, labor is becoming increasingly precarious. If the current labor shortages continue, then automation is likely to accelerate. Platformization, while rampant in the relationships with final consumers, is likely to be less rapidly adopted further upstream where relationships are B-to-B and thus composed of actors that are wary of sharing data.

Keywords: Platform economy, COVID, agrifood, platformization, digitalization

JEL Classification: Q10, L81

Suggested Citation

Kenney, Martin and Visser, M. Anne and Zysman, John, COVID-19’s Impact Upon Labor and Value Chains in the Agrifood System (October 24, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3949042 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3949042

Martin Kenney (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis ( email )

Community and Regional Development Unit
Davis, CA 95616
United States
5305745943 (Phone)

M. Anne Visser

University of California, Davis ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States

John Zysman

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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