PHARR, RGV – Customs and Border Protection’s alternative funding program gives one thing border ports of entry have never had before − a choice, according to South Texas Assets Consortium leader Sam Vale.

“Do shippers of produce continue to leave their merchandise on the POEs forcing a ten percent drop in value? Or do we finally enable experts on the bridges to efficiently cross produce as intended? With dramatic growth going on in the produce industry in Mexico, there is a drastic need for agriculture specialist services, but things can no longer be done the old way,” Vale said.

“Do we leave it there until tomorrow, or do we bring it in? Currently only the bridge companies can actually reimburse. That does not mean we can’t partner with state and private sector officials to add additional resources to the pie.

“In fact, it has already been done in some communities and guess what; hotel occupancy went up, restaurants went up, retail sales went up, all because of the additional personnel reducing wait times from four hours to two hours.

“Pharr is one of the communities that participated in that program. So we have a choice now.”

The City of Pharr recently held a press conference to announce the start of the Agriculture Inspection grant program brought about through legislation authored in the 84th Legislature by state Reps. R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra, D-McAllen, and Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, in the Texas House of Representatives, and state Sens. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, in the Texas Senate.

In attendance at the press event were Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Vale with STAC, Pharr mayor Dr. Ambrosio ‘Amos’ Hernandez, Pharr City Manager Juan Guerra and members of the Valley delegation including Reps. Guerra and Muñoz and Sen. Lucio.

STAC was recently awarded an initial grant of $652,500 from the Texas Department of Agriculture in order to address the need for additional federal agriculture inspectors along South Texas land ports of entry.

The funding will supplement 50 percent of the cost for additional agriculture inspectors. The remaining 50 percent will be matched by STAC. A designation by CBP under Sec. 559 allows local governments and private entities to contribute to the costs of additional port staff and infrastructure improvements.

“We have to prove to the Congress of the United States that these services are needed. That is where the Texas Department of Agriculture is coming in because they are adding $652,000 on a one to one match with the members of the South Texas Assets Consortium, to be able to provide additional agricultural specialist working hours at the Ports of Entry,” Vale said. “That’s innovative thinking. Texas is famous for that, and at all levels of government, we need to be innovative. We can no longer go the old way. So we really do appreciate what Commissioner Sid Miller is doing for the state of Texas and for the people in the interior. This is about Texas producers too.”

The Pharr Bridge alone sees more than $30 billion in northbound and southbound trade on a yearly basis. Mexico’s new Mazatlán-to-Matamoros super-highway, otherwise known as the Supervia, and an increase in the amount of raw commodities also crossing the bridge, are spurring an increase in trade that has grown by 50 percent over the last five years, according to leaders with Pharr.

“U.S. international trade at the bridge grew from $24.6 billion in 2010 to over $30 billion US dollars in 2014. These numbers represent measurable dynamics in the form of employment, productivity, economic status and sustainability,” said Mayor Hernandez. “Northbound truck crossing increased from 443,000 in 2010 to over 580,000 in 2014. It’s a staggering 50 percent growth in five years. Southbound traffic experiences the same.

“The need for efficient flow of trade and commerce is essential in a bridge of this magnitude along with our neighboring land ports. Again, with gratitude the city and I thank commissioner Miller and our state representatives for their time and efforts in this project.”

The Pharr POE is currently No. 1 bridge for produce in the United States, crossing about 60 percent of all fresh produce coming in from Mexico, according to Pharr International Bridge Director Luis Bazán.

The bridge is the natural connector to the north and northeastern United States through I-69, and the NAFTA Free Trade Corridor allows for the Pacific and the Gulf Coast to connect through Texas to the entire United States all the way to Canada.

The Mazatlán “Supervia” Highway in Mexico is the newest addition to the corridor. It connects the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Durango, without the dangers of the past, its supporters say.

Mexican produce imports are rising on annual basis as well. Produce distributors along the U.S.–Mexico border imported 10.6 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables in 2012. That increased to 11.47 billion in 2013, (8 percent), and jumped again by three percent in 2014 to 11.84 billion pounds.

Near Military Highway and Cage Boulevard will soon hold subdivided lots ripe for distributors after an $11 million city investment. The development is a strategy to get produce distributors to put down roots in Pharr before a federal permit allows the competing Anzalduas International Bridge to begin crossing truck traffic in the near future.

“What we have is something rare, but it’s not that rare in Texas,” Miller said to attendees at the event. “We have a local entity partner, and a local government partner, we have the state executive branch partnering, we have the state legislative branch partnering, Democrats partnering with Republicans. That’s a rare sight.

“I would like to congratulate this community, and all of us coming together to make Texas… what it boils down to is that we are all for making Texas a better place to live and work and raise our families,” Miller said.

Editor’s Note: Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, and South Texas Assets Consortium co-founder Sam Vale are pictured in the main image accompanying this story.