Pamela RiemenschneiderJeff Thorpe (from left), senior director for global food sourcing for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. talks with John McClung, president of the Texas International Produce Association, and Bret Erickson, senior vice president, and Ed Bertaud, chairman of the board of the association at the Texas Produce Convention in San Antonio.SAN ANTONIO — The South Padre Island events usually are a bigger draw, but the Texas Produce Convention Aug. 15-17 reflected a renewed focus on the Texas produce industry.
Ed Bertaud, director of business development for Houston-based IFCO’s pallet management services division, and Texas International Produce Association chairman of the board, said organizers were excited with the convention’s turnout.
“We had over 360 attendees this year, which is the highest participation we’ve seen in a number of years,” he said. “Our industry has been in the midst of an international transformation in the last few years, and I think the businesses that participated in this year’s conference reflect that change.”
Shortly before the convention, Mission-based Texas Produce Association announced a name change to the Texas International Produce Association hired a new senior vice president, Bret Erickson.
The broadened international focus has the Texas industry looking forward, Bertaud said.
“There just seems to be so much momentum in the Texas produce industry right now,” he said. “With all of the challenges we are facing, and yet the incredible growth we’re experiencing, the entire industry seems to be energized and more engaged than ever. I think you could feel and hear that at this year’s show.”
Attendees heard from a broad panel of experts about the challenges that Texas producers are having with labor, and challenges they’re likely to face with new regulations on the horizon. Charles Hall, executive director of the La Grange-based Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Association, spoke about the tremendous losses, both agriculturally and economically, his state encountered due to labor issues.
Hall warned of the impact of mandatory E-Verify.
“If your state is considering a state law with mandatory E-Verify, please share the Georgia experience,” he said.
Hall said growers were forced to leave product in the field due to labor shortages, accounting for a loss of $140 million in farm gate value of the state’s major fruit and vegetable crops, and more than $340 million in total economic losses.
“They want to say that mandatory E-Verify creates jobs,” he said. “That’s not true. You can’t get a domestic worker to go into the field and pick cucumbers.”
Texas state senator Juan Hinojosa spoke of the challenges faced by Rio Grande Valley producers.
“We’ve looked at ways to resolve this problem at a state level,” he said. “The problem is that many are not well educated with the issues facing agriculture.”
Thanks to collaboration with other Texas producers, The Texas Watermelon Association and Texas Vegetable Associations broadened their reach for marketing campaigns.
Deborah Magnuson-Elliott of Austin-based Marketing Matters said thanks to a watermelon association ad campaigns, sales increased 200%.
The Texas Vegetable Association partnered with the Texas Dairy Producers with a series of ads and television spots with the tagline “Veggies and Dairy: better together,” and “Eat your veggies in 3D.”
The organizations combined funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Block Grant program funds administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture, which enabled them to do bigger ad buys on targeted programs.
“Pooling your resources gives you tremendous opportunities,” she said.