Commissioner Miller Announces Pilot Program to Expand Inspections of Agricultural Products at the Texas-Mexico Border (1/29/2016)

PHARR, Texas – Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller today announced the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) is awarding more than $650,000 to the South Texas Assets Consortium (STAC) to facilitate a pilot project for the timely and efficient inspection of agricultural imports at ports of entry along the Texas-Mexico border. These inspections are critical to protecting domestic agriculture industries and consumers from foreign agriculture pests and diseases, as well as protecting legitimate border commerce for Texas agricultural producers.

“Population growth and a surge in demand for fresh, healthy produce have put a serious strain on the inspection process at our ports of entry,” Commissioner Miller said. “Imports help Texas farmers feed us here at home and our neighbors around the globe. Many of our farmers rely on imports, some of which come from their own lands south of the border, to help ensure we have access to fresh produce year round. Inspections are critical to protecting both the agriculture industry and Texas consumers, and this grant will help ensure the inspection process moves quickly and efficiently to bring these goods from the trucks to the market.”

Commissioner Miller was joined by State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and Rep. R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra, who authored and sponsored the legislation creating this grant in the 84th Legislative Session, as well as Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., members of STAC, the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA) and local leaders.

Inspections of imports are conducted by federal officials with Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, importers often face significant wait times because of a shortage of inspection staff at ports of entry. These delays often leave agricultural products rotting at inspection facilities rather than in the hands of the consumers who need them. Senate Bill (SB) 797 was passed to help reduce inspection times for agricultural products by funding a partnership between TDA, STAC and border inspection facilities.

“SB 797 is a proactive measure that will show the rest of the nation the value of investing in trade inspectors at our Texas international bridges,” Sen. Lucio said. “By working with our Valley delegation and Commissioner Miller, along with the critical assistance of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, we were successful in passing SB 797 and securing the necessary resources to make this matching grant trade agricultural inspection program a reality.”

“Over the past two sessions, I have worked on this legislation and assisted in hosting a legislative hearing in McAllen on this very issue so my colleagues from across the state could tour the bridge and see firsthand why this legislation is important for all Texans,” Rep. Guerra said. “I am pleased to see this grant program move forward, which will help bolster the Texas economy. These ports of entry promote sustainable job growth in the surrounding communities and attract more businesses to invest in our state.”

STAC will match every dollar granted by the state to help fund additional inspection personnel to conduct agricultural product inspections at ports of entry. STAC operates 11 international bridges and will focus this grant on certain ports of entry in South Texas that import agricultural products.

While Texas has been the nation’s top exporting state for well over a decade, many Texas agricultural producers operate on both sides of the border. These producers depend on imports throughout the year to help supplement their domestic operations and provide a variety of fresh foods for consumers.

“With this newly created agriculture 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 weight times on the bridge,” Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez M.D. said. “I thank our state legislators for their hard work this past session and the tenacity they invoked for this program to become a reality for all our ports of entry. The city of Pharr looks forward to working with STAC as we both move towards this new endeavor along with our neighboring land ports.”

Texas’ strategic location makes the state’s land and sea ports the gateway for products entering the U.S. from around the world. According to TIPA, approximately 158,000 truckloads of fresh produce crossed into the state from Mexico in 2012, and that number is expected to grow to more than 360,000 by 2020.