In 2013, about 170,000 truckloads of fruits and vegetables from Mexico came into the United through the ports of entry in South Texas, making it the leading state in the country for imports of fresh produce.
“About 40-45 percent of the fresh produce consumed in the United States is imported,” said Bret Erickson, president and chief executive officer of the Texas International Produce Association, based in Mission, TX. “More than 50 percent of those imports come through Texas.”
The crossing bridge at Pharr in the Rio Grande Valley is the busiest port of entry, with about 100,000 of those truckloads in 2013. Laredo, Progreso and Rio Grande City make up the vast majority of the other 70,000 loads. Erickson said the number of trucks crossing in Texas is increasing every year.
Texas, in fact, is expecting an even greater percentage of produce imports from Mexico in the near future, now that the Mexican “super highway” connecting the Pacific Ocean near Mazatlan with the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville is almost complete.
Some have estimated that annually an additional 500,000 truckloads of goods (not just produce) will rumble through Texas into the United States because of the ease of driving across that country through the mountains and into the Lone Star State.
Erickson said the significant increase in produce imports over the last couple of decades is the chief reason the Texas Produce Association added the word “international” to its moniker.
“It reflects the growth and direction of our membership and recognizes the importance of imports to Texas,” he said.
The TIPA is recognizing how south Texas agriculture has changed with its new produce convention that will be held in San Antonio this spring. Like the ongoing trend in produce shows, it will be a regional show but with a huge international flavor. Erickson expects about half of the exhibitors to be Mexican companies that sell their produce into the United States and ship through Texas.
Of course, the Texas International Produce Association has its roots in the Rio Grande Valley and it still has its two boots planted in Texas soil. In mid-November, Erickson said the U.S. Department of Agriculture was counting the recent ballots concerning a continuation referendum on the south Texas onion deal. The TIPA executive said it was a regularly scheduled vote and there appeared to be no extra politicking for or against the measure.
Earlier this year, a previous referendum was voided because of the use of an outdated mailing list. In the past, the federal marketing order has been approved by growers, but Erickson said his concern is simply that it be a fair vote that truly represents the wishes of the industry. The results are expected to be announced in early December.
Erickson also offered kudos to Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, who was picked by the Republican leadership to be chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture the day before. Erickson said Conaway is a friend of the ag industry and has visited with TIPA and its leadership three times in the previous 18 months.
“We are very fortunate to have him in that role,” he said. “He is familiar with grower issues in Texas including the water situation, citrus greening and the important role imports play in our economy.”
When Conaway was at TIPA, Erickson said comprehensive immigration reform was discussed. After years of working for a solution in Congress and having the optimism for action dashed, Erickson said his membership is now just looking for anything that can help it stabilize its workforce.
“I know of actual examples of growers who have had hundreds of thousands of dollars of crops rot in the field because they couldn’t get them harvested,” said Erickson.
He added that Rep. Conaway appears open to helping to find a solution for agriculture.
With regard to current crops, Erickson said Texas citrus shipments were well ahead of last year’s pace, though some recent rain did slow the harvesting down a bit.
“Right now the citrus season is rockin’ and rollin’,” he said. “Overall the crop looks very good — very comparable to last year.”