South Texas produce shipments surge

02/24/2014 09:04:00 AM
Tom Karst

See related comments: Future of Nogales still bright.

The 3,600-foot long Baluarte Bridge, completed in 2013, soars 1,300 feet over the Baluarte River between Sinaloa and Durango. With the recent completion of major Mexican highway improvements from Mazatlon in the west to Matamoros in the east, South Texas ports are gaining momentum for fresh produce shipments from Mexico.

While Nogales still leads the pack in Mexican imports, Pharr, Texas, is gaining fast.

“If you look at the last five years, we’ve seen double-digit growth year over year,” said Bret Erickson, president and chief executive officer of the Texas International Produce Association, Mission.

Federal Highway 40D is providing savings to the supply chain, said Jimmy Garza, director of operations for Bebo Distributing, Pharr. The multibillion project for the north central Mexico project started about 15 years ago and was largely completed last year, Mexican government websites report, with 115 bridges and 61 tunnels helping to cut driving time from Durango to Mazatlan from six hours to less than three hours.

The 3,600-foot long Baluarte Bridge, completed in 2013, soars 1,300 feet over the Baluarte River between Sinaloa and Durango.

Though the north central Mexican highway has tolls, cost savings in crossing West Mexican fresh produce through Pharr compared with Nogales range from $500 to $750 for loads headed Dallas, while savings to Boston can range up to $1,500 per truckload, Garza said. The transcontinental east-west Federal Highway 40D highway connects with the Federal Highway 15 — which connects west Mexico vegetable exporters with the port of Nogales — near Villa Union, Sinaloa.

Though the improved highway is drawing some west Mexican produce — particularly tomatoes — Alberto Maldonado, general manager of Apache Produce Imports LLC, Nogales, said growth may not match expectations.

“Some will try, but it is hard and whoever has tried to go setting up a warehouse (in south Texas), up till now it hasn’t worked as well as they expected,” he said.  In particular, some have said warehouses in McAllen aren’t as accessible to the main highway as operators would prefer, he said.

Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer of Ciruli Brothers LLC, Nogales, Ariz., said the transportation infrastructure is not yet in place to send a great percentage of Culiacan vegetables to south Texas.

“Right now we are able to send 10% of our stuff to south Texas, and that’s about it,” he said.
Maldonado said South Texas import volume is also benefitting from expansion of greenhouse vegetable production on the east coast of Mexico.


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