In a sign of health for the Arizona port city, the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas said the Nogales port of entry widened its lead in Mexican produce crossings over major Texas ports during the 2013-14 season.

For the season beginning in September 2013 through the end of April, U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics cited in a news release by Nogales-based FPAA said that 37% of all Mexican produce crossed in the port of Nogales, up from 34% in the 2012-13 season. Meanwhile, the USDA said Pharr and Progresso Texas ports together accounted for 28% of Mexican produce crossings from September to April, down from 30% of crossing in the 2012-13 season. USDA statistics said the Otay Mesa, Calif., port accounted for 11% of Mexican produce crossings. Other ports including San Luis in Arizona, Laredo in Texas, accounted for 25% of Mexican produce crossings.

Nogales fresh produce crossings in the period totaled 4.2 billion pounds, according to a news release from the FPAA, up 17% from 3.6 billion in the 2012-13. The strong increase in Nogales crossings was credited in part to improvements at the new Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales. That has decreased time required to enter the U.S., according to the release.

Considering the town’s vibrant truck traffic over the winter, Lance Jungmeyer, president of FPAA, said he wasn’t surprised that Nogales crossings were up. He said the 4.2 billion pounds in crossings for Nogales was impressive, however.

“Some years we are only 3 billion to 3.5 billion (pounds), so 4 billion was a lot,” he said.

Jungmeyer said the 300 million pound increase in Nogales watermelon crossings — from 370 million pounds in 2012-13 to 657 million pounds in 2013-14 — was notable among commodity trends.

Squash crossings in Nogales were up about 100 million pounds, and cucumber crossings through Nogales were up about 80 million pounds, he said. Orange crossings also increased dramatically, from 12 million pounds in 2012-3 to 51 million pounds in 2013-14.

“Three years ago no one thought about oranges in Nogales, but now we are bringing almost a million pounds of oranges per week through this town,” he said.

Though south Texas ports have received favorable press coverage because of highway improvements in Mexico that make it easier to ship there, Jungmeyer said he believes Nogales will retain its number one position in the years ahead. One factor is that better infrastructure at the Nogales port results in less wait time for trucks compared to other ports, he said.

The revamped Mariposa Port of Entry has doubled the number of commercial crossing lanes, according to the release. The 2014 omnibus spending bill will give Nogales 120 additional Customs officers to facilitate trade at the expanded port, according to the release. In addition, the Arizona Department of Transportation has also made significant improvements on the road leading into the U.S. from the port, including widening and adding additional lanes for vehicles to access I-19.

Jungmeyer said east-west highway improvements in Mexico benefit both Texas and Arizona ports.

“This highway will not only move west Mexico produce through south Texas but also would bring central Mexican produce to the west side and through Nogales,” Jungmeyer said. Water and environmental pressures in California may lead to increasing a shift in fresh produce acreage from the state to Mexico, he said. That also is a good sign for future growth, he said.

Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association, Mission, said the group was also gathering statistics on trade trends. Erickson said south Texas ports - Pharr, Progresso, Los Indios, Laredo, Rio Grande City continue to show growth in produce crossings. He noted the FPAA analysis, based on September through April numbers, cuts short some of the shipping season.

“There is still quite a bit of the year left,” he said.

“That is great that (Nogales) is having tremendous growth and I know for a fact we’re seeing big growth,” he said. “When you add the Texas ports together we are close to half of the imported produce coming to the U.S.,” he said.

Erickson said trends over the past five or six years show Texas ports are growing in importance.

Texas ports also are doing very well on wait times this year, he said.

“There is always room for improvement and that is one of the things we are working on here in Texas and with our partners in Nogales,” he said.