David Wheelock


Sam Fiorello

St. Louis, MO (May 12, 2020) – The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s Ag Tech NEXT Now! webinar series started Tuesday with a conversation between St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank Vice President David Wheelock and Sam Fiorello, CEO Cortex Innovation Community and Chair, AgTech Next External Advisory Board.

Wheelock and Fiorello discussed the 1918 influenza outbreak and its modern-day implications. The session was the first in a series about risks and rewards in a post COVID-19 world and the impact on the ag and food industry.

The first session was a general discussion about the economic impacts of the pandemics, Fiorello said.

The influenza pandemic hit in three waves during the spring of 1918, and then again early and in the spring of 1919, he says.

“These things come in waves,” Fiorello explains. “It’s not like you go through a tough period and these pandemics end. Other pandemics have had four or five waves.”

Wheelock says from his research the response to the 1918 influenza outbreak varied depending on location. Some areas such as St. Louis had more success in containing the outbreak than other cities such as Philadelphia, he says.

Wheelock notes the economic structure of the country varied at the time, with the United States less urbanized than it is now. He says half the population then lived on farms or in rural towns, whereas five times the population now lives in cities. In 1918, Wheelock says the economy was more agriculturally based, with 33% of the workforce in agriculture compared to 2% now.

The structure of the workforce could explain some of the different economic implications then from COVID-19, Wheelock says. He points out men between the ages of 18-35 were particularly hard hit by the influenza pandemic, whereas COVID-19 has impacted more of the older population.

Wheelock says his research has pointed to evidence that local government intervention in the 1918 situation helped to flatten the curve of infection and resulted in better economic performance following the pandemic in those areas that were more successful in flattening the curve.

“Aggressive controls helped to lessen the impact on the economy with faster economic growth afterwards,” Wheelock says.

He isn’t sure if the outcome will be the same following COVID-19 because of the structural differences in the economy.

Fiorello says the next presentation is focused on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the agricultural sector. “COVID-19 Impacts on the Food System” is scheduled for noon-12:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 9 featuring a conversation with AON Managing Director and SVP Chip Lerwick and Danforth Center Director of Entrepreneurship Tom Laurita analyzing food supply chain weaknesses and implications for consumers, producers, workers, and livestock.

“AgTech Innovations in the Post COVID-19 World” is scheduled for noon-12:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 14 featuring insights from agri-food thought leader and author Shelman about the “new normal” with Moderator Claire Kinlaw, Danforth Center director innovation commercialization.

The webinar series is free but registration is required. For more information, go to www.agtechnext.org.

The Danforth Center is grateful to its partners for their support of the AgTech NEXT Now! webinar series. 2020 partners include Aon, Bayer Crop Science, Bryan Cave Layton Paisner, Thompson Coburn, Tech Accel, KWS, Alliance STL, Ameren Missouri, Benson Hill, Clayco, Lewis and Clark Ventures, Missouri Technology Corporation, Open Prairie, St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, Posinelli, BioSTL, CoBank, Missouri Department of Agriculture, Wells Fargo, and Ventas Wexford Science + Technology.

Written by Chris Lusvardi, Seed Today editor