1. Could you share a bit of your professional career with us?
It’s been almost 10 years of working directly for the fresh produce industry. Something I did not see myself working in. Straight out of high school I join the U.S. Marine Corps because keeping my head inside books was not so much fun for me. I wanted to leave the Rio Grande Valley and see what else was out there. I had the pleasure of serving in Japan, Thailand and ultimately Iraq. It has been quite an adventure in my early life, and I soon realized that I do need to get my head in some books, so I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Computer Information Systems, all while working part-time at Texas Citrus Mutual.
Working at Texas Citrus Mutual is where I had my first experience in the fresh produce industry. Planning and coordinating events for the local association gave me the opportunity to meet many important leaders in the industry. Though my goal was to work in some capacity as an Information Technology guy because of my degree and study, I came to realize how much I enjoyed the people I was working with and those who I had met in the industry. And thanks to an old boss of mine, I was given the opportunity to return and continue my career in the fresh produce industry. I’m now serving in this role as Directory of Industry Relations of the Texas International Produce Association.
2. What´s has been your experience working at the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA)?
We’re a very small association, with a total of four personnel in our office, so the number of responsibilities and daily tasks vary. One of my primary roles is membership recruitment and engagement. We serve the fresh produce industry. Especially those who grow product in Texas or consider Texas the first point of shipment for produce coming through its ports of entry.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on an array of issues that affect the produce industry, such as:
- Overweight corridor in South Texas – TIPA was instrumental to help communicate the need for cities to designate certain roads and make investments to improve the load capacity for overweight trucks carrying over 85,000lbs of fresh produce. Effectively helping the importer cross more product in less trips and providing stronger roads that mitigate the damage from such heavy loads.
- Tomato Suspension Agreement – Since my arrival in 2013, I was baptized in the produce industry by attending these industry meetings with the top leaders in these topics from Mexico and the US.
- Papaya Best Practices Document – The FDA announced in 2019 that the papaya industry needed to take action to help prevent future salmonella outbreaks. Many of TIPA’s papaya members were rightfully concerned and so TIPA worked closely with United Fresh, ProExport Papaya, and FoodSafety CTS, in developing the first edition of the “Food Safety Best Practices Guide for the Growing and Handling of Mexican Papayas.” This took about a year to accomplish. The synergy between all these entities helped this document come to fruition. FDA has acknowledged and commended this work which industry was able to accomplish.
- Coordinating with Bridge entities and municipalities to help discover local problems at each port of entry and communicating with CBP, USDA and FDA to help resolve them. Though we have been doing this thru our daily work, TIPA has developed special committees to help address issues at our ports of entry and make the meaningful relationships between the leaderships to help expedite truck crossings.
A favorite feather in our hat, is the Viva Fresh Produce Expo, which is a fairly new regional expo that our team along with our board of directors have developed to ultimately help our membership make the connection with the retailers and foodservice buyers.
3. Why is it important for growers to be members of TIPA?
TIPA represents the growers and importers and helps tackle any issue that might be hindering the success of their operations. As mentioned before, the issues that our members face could not be resolved by themselves, so collectively TIPA works with CBP, FDA, USDA and our South Texas Congressman and Texas Senator for support.
Being a member of TIPA helps support our work for the produce industry and especially those impacting the most crucial ports of entry for fresh fruits and vegetables, that being the ports of Texas where more than 60% of fresh produce enters the U.S.
4. How important is Mexico’s agriculture to the US fresh produce industry?
One of the very first terminal market developed in South Texas was done by a visionary by the name of Elio Botello Sr. in McAllen, Texas. Years ago, Mr. Botello saw the need for warehouses to help distribute fresh fruits and vegetables from South Texas to the rest of the United States. Mexico has the perfect climate to grow year-round. The demand for fresh fruits and vegetables in the U.S. continues to increase. Fast forward to today we find many innovative cold storage warehouses continuing to open in Texas. The Mazatlan-Durango Supervia highway now allows fresh produce to travel from west Mexico straight to Texas borders, slashing many hours of travel time for markets in the east coast. It is evident that Mexico’s agriculture has impacted the U.S. and being neighboring countries, we should continue to work together to help both countries succeed.
5. VIVA Fresh is coming up, could you share a bit about the event?
The Viva Fresh Produce Expo started in 2015 by the Texas International Produce Association to help bring our members to do business with retail and foodservice companies. We focus on the regional aspect, which is the Tex-Mex corridor, where fresh produce is grown in Texas and/or in Mexico and crossed through Texas ports of entry. The expo is a small, intimate setting with the purpose of networking and getting the opportunity to do business in one location. Hosted at the Gaylord Texas Resort, in Grapevine, TX the venue allows for everyone to be housed under one location.
6. What are the main activities carried out in the event?
New this year at Viva Fresh is a wine tasting tour in the city of Grapevine for those who might not be interested in playing golf. This is something new and we hope it encourages others to attend. If you prefer golf, we now have two days to choose from to play on the Dallas Cowboys Golf Course. Registration is open for those who have registered to attend already. For a full list of the schedule of events visit: https://vivafreshexpo.com/schedule-at-a-glance/
7. What is the “Clean Eating Challenge”?
The Clean Eating Challenge is a commitment by a few selected industry folks who wish to embark on a healthy eating journey for 6 months. The goal is to challenge individuals to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables in their daily meals to help improve health and wellness. At the end of the 6 months, the selected participates will be featured at the Keynote Luncheon in Viva Fresh and will explain their journey and talk about their results. In past editions of this challenge, we have seen these individuals improve their health so much that many of their medications they were taking were no longer needed.
8. How many attendees do you expect in this next edition? Where from?
We expect about 2,500 total attendees which come from the U.S., Mexico and Canada. The expo is not about bring the most amount of people to attend but creating the right atmosphere. The top importers and growers in Texas and Mexico will be exhibiting, and the top retailers and foodservice companies will be present. The majority of the Fresh Produce is grown in Texas or is crossing through Texas ports and the right buyers will be here to do business.
9.According to visitor´s experience, what have been the main business opportunities they encounter at the show?
The main thing I hear from our exhibitors is that they can do business and see everyone they need to in the amount of time given and in the intimate environment we provide. It’s not a huge expo where you can get lost, but it’s the right size and fit for those wishes to get business done and have a good time networking as well.
10. Anything else you want to add
Since 2007, we have seen a yearly increase of 7% of crossings of fresh fruits and vegetables in the ports of Texas. Trade is vital for both our countries. I look forward to the years to come and to help serve our industry. Thank you for this opportunity to share my story.