Future of Nogales still bright

02/24/2014 04:19:00 PM
Tom Karst

For related content, see South Texas produce shipments surge.

Nogales, Ariz., is the No. 1 port for Mexican produce imports, and rising volumes coming through Pharr, Texas, won’t diminish the stature of the Arizona port.

Trucks line up at the Mariposa Port of Entry at Nogales, Ariz.File photoTrucks line up at the Mariposa Port of Entry at Nogales, Ariz.The long-term growth in fresh produce imports from Mexico will bring benefits to traders in all border states, said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales.

“The pie is getting bigger,” Jungmeyer said. “Trade is still growing in Nogales, just not as fast as it is South Texas.”

In 2013, Nogales accounted for 33% of Mexican produce crossings, compared with 26% for Pharr, Texas, according to the USDA.

While Mexican produce volumes coming through Arizona ports grew 16% from 2007 to 2012, USDA statistics show that Arizona ports share of total Mexican produce crossings decreased from 44% in 2007 to 37% in 2012. Texas ports accounted for 39% of crossings in 2007, but that share increased to 45% by 2012.

With the completion of a Mexican highway in 2013, some Nogales operators are expanding in south Texas to better compete for East Coast buyers, Jungmeyer said.

“If you are a buyer east of the Mississippi, you are going to make your choice based on supply and demand in a local market — McAllen versus Nogales — add in freight and make your decision based on that,” he said.

For most commodities, Nogales will have the edge for the West Coast.

There are eight commercial lanes at the port of Nogales, and Jungmeyer said a typical day in the winter may see 1,200 produce trucks crossing the border. When trucks with other freight are counted, the daily totals approach 1,600 to 1,800 truckloads, he said.

With port capacity at 4,000 trucks per day, Jungmeyer said there is a lot of room to grow.

“One of the things we are pushing is to build up the infrastructure in the state of Arizona to handle that additional volume, and I’m very confident that in the next five to 10 years you will see a bigger evolution in the Mexican produce industry,” he said.

Part of that evolution will be California produce companies in port cities like Nogales and San Diego to manage expanded operations in Mexico. Growers are being driven out of California by a lack of water, rising wages and other regulations, Jungmeyer said, and they are moving operations to Mexico.

Within five to 10 years, practically anything available out of California will also be available in west Mexico, Jungmeyer said.

Mexico’s cross-country highway from Mazatlan to Matamoros will also open up the movement of fresh produce grown in central and eastern Mexico — such as limes, papayas, pineapples, bananas, broccoli, celery and other items — to be shipped through Nogales and to West Coast customers, he said.

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