Over the past year, Texas took the lead, and with a new highway in Mexico nearing completion, the produce importing business is booming in the Rio Grande Valley.
“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we took over in volume imported some time in February,” said John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission.
According to the USDA, as of Feb. 28, 555,250 10,000-pound equivalents entered the U.S. through Texas, compared to 530,434 through Arizona and 215,075 in California.
Those numbers did not include floral or processed product, McClung said.
It’s not all about who imports the most, McClung said.
“What really matters is that there’s plenty of business for both of us (Nogales and Texas), and for California, for that matter,” he said.
The increasing volume through Texas isn’t just companies switching sides, either.
“We’re really looking at the increase of produce out of Mexico and into the U.S.,” McClung said.
The gradual transition from a predominantly grower-shipper community to an importing community brings different challenges for the Texas Produce Association.
“We’re paying more attention to cross-border trade issues,” McClung said. “We’re paying more attention to what the industry in Texas is doing to serve this trend.”
“It is a matter of shifts by degree. This is not a big re-write of our mission statement.”
This increase in business, and traffic through the Texas ports of entry also has the Texas Produce Association collaborating with its Nogales counterpart, the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, on issues related to importing produce from Mexico.
The organizations held their first America Trades Produce Conference last March in McAllen and plan to have a second next March in Nogales.
McClung said the organizations felt the first conference did a good job in giving both sides — from Mexican grower-shippers to U.S. importers — a greater understanding of border crossing issues, valuable networking and the opportunity to share presentations on the latest research in fruit and vegetable production and transport.
“We certainly had a good enough result last year here in McAllen that we’re enthusiastic about doing it next year,” McClung said.
The 2012 America Trades Produce Conference is scheduled for March 21-23 in Nogales.