A Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialist shows an agriculture intern a possible pest on cilantro at Rio Grande City Port of Entry. ( Courtesy Customs and Border Protection )

Students from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley are working paid internships alongside Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists, inspecting fresh produce from Mexico.

The program is possible through a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program and the South Texas Assets Consortium, which funds up to 10 students from the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the program; there are three currently, according to a CBP news release.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to help provide local college students looking for an agricultural/biological sciences career, possibly as a future CBP agriculture specialist, to learn valuable agriculture inspection, pest interception skills while assisting CBP to efficiently process the significant volume of commercial produce we see on a daily basis at Pharr and Rio Grande City ports of entry,” Randy Howe, director of field operations with the Laredo Field Office, said in the release.

Besides assisting with cargo inspections, the students receive classroom and virtual training.

Almost 230,000 trucks carrying imported fresh produce entered Texas in 2019, which is 127% more than in 2007, according to the release. The Pharr International Bridge handled nearly 80% of that volume. 

Damte Galeazzi, president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association, said the program has been in the works since 2017. 

“This internship not only trains college students with the skills they’ll need to assume such a role with CBP following graduation, but more importantly the program builds a pool of qualified individuals that any of the numerous bridges crossing fresh produce in Texas can access to fill personnel needs,” Galeazzi said.