(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 16) The Texas Produce Association is now the Texas International Produce Association, reflecting the shift from domestic issues to cross-border trade with rising imports from Mexico.
The trade association also has a new initiative, the Border Issues Management Program, to address the business and policy issues linked to an increasing flow of fresh produce through Texas from Mexico.
“The board has recognized that it’s time to update the name of our association to more accurately reflect the international reality of our business and better define the full breadth of our members’ role,” Ed Bertaud, association board chairman, said in a news release.
Improving infrastructure in Mexico and rising transport costs farther west could double the movement of product through Texas in the near future, according to the association. Last year, 140,000 semi truck loads of fresh produce came through the state. About 98,000 loads crossed the Pharr-Reynosa Bridge, the main entry point in the lower Rio Grande Valley.
Through Aug. 15 this year, 59,614 40,000-pound loads of Mexican fruits and vegetables entered the U.S. via the Pharr-Reynosa Bridge. Statewide in Texas, 101,598 loads crossed. Imports through Nogales, Ariz., and San Luis, Ariz., totaled 110,158 loads, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Curtis DeBerry, owner of Boerne, Texas-based Progreso Produce Ltd., welcomed the new name.
“As an ex-chairman of the board, I was promoting that for the last 10 years to get the organization to be more international in appearance,” DeBerry said. “It gives us more credibility with suppliers in Mexico and puts a focus on what we’re really doing. We’re spending most of our time on border issues.
“It will be a very positive way for the association to service the international clients who make up the biggest part of our industry right now,” DeBerry said.
Progreso Produce Ltd. grows up to 30% of its produce in Texas, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The bulk is imported from Mexico and other countries. Its main crops are onions, watermelons, berries and honeydews.
Another past board chairman — Mike Martin, president of Mission, Texas-based Rio Queen Citrus Inc. — said the trade association has a history of handling border issues, for example helping to ease restrictions on lime imports in late 2010, when sweet orange scab was an issue.
“Some of it is semantics,” Martin said. “The association’s focus may change slightly, but they’re not abandoning their Texas membership by any means. We support the move, and it opens up opportunities for additional membership.”
About 85% of Rio Queen Citrus Inc. commodities are shipped from the U.S.; the rest, mostly onions, come from Mexico.
“This volume growth is coming at the same time federal inspectors at the ports of entry are being stressed to the maximum, with no realistic hope for more personnel or laboratory capacity,” association president John McClung said in the release. “Meanwhile, the Food Safety Modernization Act, the necessary push to prevent the introduction of invasive pests, and the ongoing mission to keep out undocumented individuals and drugs, combine to make the government’s job all the more difficult, perhaps impossible.”
The Border Issues Management Program was conceived as a way to fight gridlock.
“The BIMP will play a crucial role in addressing the specific challenges our importers face, and help them be positioned for success in the future,” Bertaud said in the release.
“(BIMP) is a good way to raise money for the association to take care of these border issues — food safety, immigration, pest control — which seem to be getting bigger and more frequent as we go along,” DeBerry said.
In the last few years, Texas has become the largest importer of fresh Mexican produce, according to the association. In all, about two-thirds of the produce Texas supplies nationwide is grown in Mexico.
The Texas Produce Convention, sponsored by the Texas International Produce Association, Texas Vegetable Association and Texas Citrus Mutual, kicked off Aug. 15 in San Antonio. The event, which concludes Aug. 17, will be the last Texas convention for McClung, who is retiring after a transition period. McClung’s role will be filled by Bret Erickson, who was named senior vice president of the association in early August.
McClung told The Packer that a collaboration with the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas is not an objective at this time."We are still 60% import and 40% Texas-grown produce, and we still have a different mission," he said.