Agriculture trade between the U.S. and Mexico has grown substantially over the last decade with the bulk of agricultural products trucked across the international bridges on the southern border headed to U.S. markets.
An estimated 170,000 Mexican trucks laden with mostly fresh fruits and vegetables are expected to cross into the U.S. this year at international bridges at Pharr, McAllen and Brownsville land ports in deep South Texas, representing a tremendous load of agricultural products that must be inspected before being allowed to cross the Rio Grande River.
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In addition, the significant demand on inspectors at those land ports is only expected to increase sharply in the months and years ahead as the new Mexican super-highway that connects western Mexico to the Texas border becomes more crowded with fresh foods headed to U.S. buyers.
The Mazatlan-Matamoros superhighway, also dubbed Supervia, is drastically changing the fresh produce sector in South Texas and in the U.S., and the trend is expected to continue in the coming years. Connecting Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico to Pharr and Brownsville, Texas, this new route for produce transportation provides a more direct route to customers in the Midwest and on the East Coast of the U.S. from agriculture-rich regions in Mexico.
Already multi-million dollar refrigerated storage facilities have opened in the McAllen-Edinburg area to accommodate the inflow of these fresh food products, but Rio Grande Valley wholesalers and warehouse owners have complained that a lack of agriculture inspectors at the border has dramatically increased inspection wait times, a situation that puts fresh foods at risk and also threatens to complicate and even bottleneck transit schedules to destinations deeper inside the United States.
As a result, the agriculture and transportation industry in South Texas has expressed the need for more USDA inspectors. But because of budget constraints, only a handful of additional inspectors have been added to speed the process of inspections.
In response, South Texas business leaders, working with State Rep. R.D. 'Bobby' Guerra, D-McAllen, and state Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, petitioned the Texas Legislature to consider providing financial assistance to add more inspectors at land port crossings in South Texas.
The move was supported by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. With the support of the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), South Texas elected representatives, and the South Texas Assets Consortium (STAC), a coalition of South Texas business owners and local government officials, the Legislature authorized a $652,500 grant that should substantially reduce wait times at ports between Texas and Mexico.
The grant requires the STAC to match those funds, so collectively about $1.3 million will soon be available to add inspectors at land ports in South Texas to handle the elevated flow of fresh foods from Mexico.
TDA Commissioner Sid Miller visited South Texas recently and joined local officials and the business community in supporting the Legislature's initiative to bolster ag inspectors at the border.
"We certainly don’t want the ports to get so overwhelmed (that) they can’t handle the situation," Miller said at a joint news conference.
"With this newly created grant program, ports of entry like the Pharr International Bridge and our neighboring land ports will benefit tremendously by allowing commerce and trade to flow more efficiently and alleviate the frustration of extended wait times on the bridge," Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez said in a news release. "I applaud the leadership of our state legislators and of Commissioner Miller for recognizing the great need in our ports of entry and developing viable solutions to improve commerce and trade."