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Expanded production could fuel continuing growth for Nogales

NOGALES, AZ — To illustrate the importance of Nogales as a port of entry for Mexican produce into the United States, Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, pointed to numbers.

The most remarkable of these numbers may be Jungmeyer’s own prediction for the growth of produce arriving into the United States: “Six to ten percent annual growth forever.”

This will be driven by Mexico’s extension of growing seasons and an increasing variety of produce being produced in the country.

“Anything you can get in California you can get in Mexico, too,” Jungmeyer said. California’s classic vegetables like lettuce, broccoli and carrots can be expected to undergo expanded production in Mexico.

High-technology greenhouse production is very important in Mexico and will become even more important to producing vegetables.

During the peak crossing periods, 1,200 trailerloads of Mexican fresh fruits and vegetables currently enter Nogales each day. By Jungmeyer’s estimation for 40,000-pound capacity trailers, that equates to 50 million pounds a day “through this little town.”

If 40-pound produce cases with 50 million pounds were stacked one atop the other that would equate to 1.26 million feet, or reach to 240 miles each day.

A new port of entry is nearing construction in Nogales. Between arriving produce, maquila and other products, this equates to the processing of about 4,000 trucks a day. This has a positive $750 million impact on Santa Cruz County, which is home to only 50,000 residents.

Jungmeyer said his association’s purpose is the represent the U.S. companies that distribute that product.

Matt Mandel, vice president of sales and marketing for SunFed in Rio Rico, confirmed that Mexican produce coming into Arizona has a huge impact on the state. “But we get negative press coverage, which irritates me. We have a new $200 million port and the only thing the press talks about is illegals,” Mandel said.

Mandel added that the new port “has eight commercial lanes that are under construction. There are six now. I can’t say enough nice things about the local customs aervice. They work very closely with us. They do an amazing job for the resources they are given.”

Mandel said the local U.S. Customs services are 60 percent funded by the federal government and 40 percent funded by user fees.

Sergio Chamberlain, president of SCC Fresh LLC, based in Nogales, agreed with Jungmeyer that Nogales’ role in the produce industry’s future is very positive. “Mexico has an advantage with the weather and for the most part is very well adapted to the food-safety issue,” he said.

Virtually all growers have conformed to food-safety initiatives and some even pay to have U.S. Food & Drug Administration officers working on their premises, Chamberlain noted.