In the next five to seven years, produce imports from Mexico will grow, with the majority of the growth coming through Texas, according to the study.
Based on trends in the last five years, the study projects U.S. produce imports from Mexico via truck will increase to 470,000 truckloads by 2020, or nearly 32% above 2012 levels. Texas ports are expected to grow by 62% (to about 260,000 truckloads), according to the study.
When incorporating industry interviews, U.S. economic conditions and the potential effect of the improvement in the Mexican Federal Highway 40 between Mazatlan and Reynosa, the study issued an alternate projection which forecast that overall fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico could grow to 615,672 truckloads by 2020, or a 73% increase over 2012.
The second forecast said Texas ports could handle 59% of total Mexican fresh produce shipments, or about 360,000 truckloads. That is more than double 2012 import numbers for Texas ports.
Infrastructure improvements in Mexico and south Texas will attract produce that was previously shipped through Western U.S. destinations, but also may bring some imports from Central America, South America, and possibly Asia.
“Even if we don’t hit 360,000 truckloads, there is no question we will see a significant influx of product through south Texas,” Erickson said.
Because of the coming surge, Erickson said the Texas International Produce Association is working to increase staffing at Pharr and other ports.
“We’re up to eight or nine FDA inspectors and starting in February we will have an APHIS insect identifier who will be based at the Pharr bridge,” he said.
Previously, the insect identifier was an hour away in Brownsville, sometimes causing delays in shipments when insects could not be identified through digital pictures.
The Pharr port of entry consists of a 3-mile elevated bridge across the Rio Grande River, with four northbound lanes and two southbound lanes, Garza said. A second span is being considered, he said.
“Obviously we are competing for traffic (with Nogales) and I think we have a big advantage with this new highway,” he said.
With three or four new warehouses being constructed, Pharr’s infrastructure will continue to grow to accommodate the bigger volumes of fresh produce, Garza said. The county is working on a loop around the city to ease traffic issues, he said.