The spotlight was on the benefits and availability of fresh produce from Texas and imported across the Texas border from Mexico when record crowds gathered in San Antonio for the annual Viva Fresh Expo held Mar. 31 - Apr. 2.
Expo organizers say a high ratio of produce buyers helped make the second annual event a major success.
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The show has evolved from a regional event to a major showcase for fresh produce from across the region, with the greatest growth attributed to increased produce traffic from Mexico, according to event organizer Texas International Produce Association (TIPA).
“The Texas produce industry is growing incredibly fast, creating tremendous opportunities for produce companies and allied industries such as transportation, customs brokerages, cold storage operations, construction companies, box and pallet companies, food retailers and many others,” says Bret Erickson, Texas International Produce Association president and chief executive officer.
Erickson said a study conducted by the Texas A&M Center for North American Studies analyzed USDA data, which indicates a marked increase in fresh produce at Texas international land ports, a 21 percent jump from 2014 numbers.
By comparison, produce imports through land ports in Arizona increased by 12.7 percent and in California by 11.9 percent for the same period.
“Texas volumes of imported produce have grown a staggering 108 percent over the last eight years. By comparison, California has grown by 50 percent and Arizona by 31 percent over the same period.”
Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist and director of the Texas A&M Center for North American Studies, predicts that produce imports at the Pharr International Bridge are likely to surpass import totals at Nogales, Arizona, later this year or in 2017. Nogales has been the preferred import land crossing for fresh produce into the U.S. for a number of years running but has been losing ground to Texas ports in recent years.
SUPER HIGHWAY A FACTOR
TIPA officials say Texas is quickly becoming the preferred destination for Mexican produce imports because of the completion of a major Mexican super highway connecting the major produce growing areas of Sinaloa, Mexico, and the Texas border, and because of the growing infrastructure in the Texas Valley that can ship produce faster to points east and north of Texas, ensuring fresh produce reaches U.S. markets faster and subsequently increasing shelf life.
“Early data shows produce imports through Texas ports were already up by 30.3 percent for the month of January 2016 compared to January 2015,” Ribera said.
Some 235 produce buyers registered for the San Antonio Exp. In all, some 1,550 people attended the Expo, which was staged at San Antonio's JW Marriott Hill Country Resort & Spa. A record 178 vendor booths were available.
Erickson says the latest Expo also represents a move toward more of “an educational platform on the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.” Speakers at the Expo included Dr. Drew Ramsey, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. Ramsey's message included new information about the benefits of a diet of fresh vegetables. “Food can be our most important public health intervention,” he said, noting that farm-fresh foods, especially vegetables, “are just as powerful as pharmaceuticals in boosting psychiatric health.”
Ramsey said human brain health is heavily dependent on consuming the right foods. When planning one's diet, he suggests that “our brains should be at the center of the plate. Your brain is your most important asset.”
TIPA officials say while great strides have been made to bring fresh produce to consumers, challenges remain, including escalating input and transportation costs and the availability of water.