The Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas has a number of local issues on its plate as the fall/winter west Mexico produce season gets underway.

The association is pushing for some highway improvements that should save time and money for produce grower-shippers and distributors and also is making an effort to enhance the skillsets of produce industry employees and encourage talented students not to move out of the city when they’ve completed their education.

Lance Jungmeyer, association president, said in early November that the Arizona Department of Transportation has applied for a $25 million TIGER — Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery — grant that would allow construction of a number of proposed improvements to State Route 189 in Nogales.

Projects include construction of southbound and northbound flyover ramps at Interstate 19 and other improvements to the nearly 4-mile stretch of State Route 189 that connects the Mariposa Port of Entry with I-19, a major thoroughfare that leads to the Rio Rico Industrial park and provides access to numerous other produce warehouses along its path.

A study has shown that improvements would reduce the number of stops trucks have to make between the port of entry and the Rio Rico produce warehouses, saving wear and tear on the 1,200 trucks that travel the route daily and slashing 13 minutes off the drive time between the two points, Jungmeyer said.


Education outreach

The FPAA also is working with Santa Cruz Center, the local community college, to provide continuing education for warehouse workers, Jungmeyer said.

A number of courses, including computer literacy, English for business, finance and accounting are offered to provide educational opportunities for workers who are laid off during the summer.

“We want to find a way to help those people be more employable for the next season,” Jungmeyer said.

The association also is working with Rio Rico High School to “immerse students into practical skills” that are related to the produce industry, he said.

A greenhouse and solar farm are available to students and a program is starting involving the high school and the University of Arizona to provide training at a composting center in Nogales.

Students can receive training in soil microbiology and learn how to manage a composting operation as well as learn how to market the compost, Jungmeyer said.

The FPAA also works with the high school to arrange produce warehouse tours that expose students to various aspects of the produce industry, including supervising a warehouse and working in the sales operation, he said.

Too many of the area’s brightest students leave the city and don’t come back after graduation, he said.

“We don’t want to see that.”