On this occasion, we have the opportunity to present an interesting interview we conducted with James Chamberlain, the current President of the Port of Nogales and Santa Cruz, who is also president of Chamberlain Distributing Inc. with over 35 years of experience working in this company and with various distributors of tomato fresh produce industry in California.
He shares with us his experience of working together with several companies in Sinaloa, the importance that this represents for the trade of fresh fruits and vegetables in the U.S., and how has been for him the experience of leading the port authority of Nogales and Santa Cruz.
1. Can you tell us a little about your company Chamberlain Distributing and what are the main products you commercialize?
I am President of Chamberlain Distributing Inc. I own the company along with my sister Diana Durazo.
I have worked at our 50 years old company since 1987. I also worked for multiple of California based tomato distributors earlier in my career.
Our Company has always had significant leadership positions with several core items such as traditional soft squashes, (Italian, Yellow, Grey) Cucumbers, Green Bell peppers, and Rd Beans.
2. What are the main regions of Mexico where you market-fresh produce?
We are proud to market our Farmers products throughout North America. Our main areas of distribution are surrounding areas of Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Seattle.
3. Could you tell us which Sinaloa growers are currently working with?
Over a 50 yr time span, we have worked with dozens of innovative and distinguished Sinaloa Farming Families. We currently work with: SERG Agricola, Agricola EJAM, Agricola Valley King de Mexico, Agroexportadora Los Mayos, and Agricola Granero De Oro. We also work with the Sonora Farms of Horticola San Antonio and Agroexportaciones Del Desierto. These families are the backbone of our company, along with our valued employees in Nogales Arizona. We have grown and flourished TOGETHER over the past 50 years. Our hope is to continue that tradition for decades to come.
4. How important do you consider Mexico’s fresh produce industry for the fresh produce industry in the U.S.?
Over the course of my own 35 year career we have experienced the magnificent transformation of the Mexican Agriculture Sector. It has become a Modern, Innovative, and Efficient world leader in farming healthy fruits and vegetables for consumers all over the globe. We believe Mexican Agriculture has become a consistent and reliable partner to all three sectors of North American food distribution, (retail, foodservice, and wholesale). Our farmer’s dedication to consistent quality and production reliability have been the key to our successes at Chamberlain Distributing Inc. as well as for hundreds of Mexican Ag importers. We are focused on building stronger and sustainable relationships with our loyal customers. We see the Mexican Ag Industry playing a significant role within the growth of the North American food industry for the next century and beyond.
5. How important is the port of Nogales, Arizona to the Mexican fresh produce trade in the U.S.? What has it been like for you to lead the port authority of Nogales and Santa Cruz and what are the main challenges you have faced?
The Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales Az., is the primary U.S. Port for the importation of Mexican Fruits and Vegetables. Mexican farmers have been helping feed North American consumers for well over a Century. And the majority of those fruits and vegetables have crossed thru Nogales, Arizona. My new role as Chairman of the Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority allows me to advocate for large infrastructure projects which make our community safer and more efficient in the handling of billions of dollars of cross-border trade between the U. S. and Mexico.
We continue to grow thru our infrastructure investments of over 215 Million dollars for the Modernization of Mariposa Port. As well as thru our 1st phase of Mariposa/ Ruby Rd/ Rio Rico transportation trade corridor. The Mariposa Rd., 135 Million dollar improvement was just completed as few months ago. We believe the key to sustainable and smart growth comes thru modern and efficient infrastructure projects.
I have had the privilege of leading several organizations during my career. I was Chairman of the board of St. Andrews Children’s Clinic in the early 2000’s. This organization has provided medical care for some of Mexico’s most disabled children for the past 45 years. I was also the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas Chairman of the Board from 2010-2012. My involvement in these organizations has helped me have a unique understanding of our Produce Industry as well as for how our industry interacts and is influenced by local, State, and Federal governments.
These interactions with multiple Government agencies are often the most challenging encounters. But they are also our greatest opportunities to advocate for the Produce Industry needs and educate those who may not agree with us.
6. How do you think the bilateral relationship between Mexico and the U.S. can be strengthened for fresh trade and what are the main opportunities you see in the short and medium-term?
We must first realize and understand the value of the world’s greatest trading block of Mexico, Canada, and the United States of America. Our relationship is based on the fact that we need each other, in order to feed each other! That is a powerful statement which should be respected and promoted more often. We will always have short term challenges like: our changing weather patterns, new government administrations, currency fluctuations, labor and water issues, immigration issues and other trade barriers. Our ability to focus on the bigger goals and work thru our issues have proved to be our value in the North American Economic Success story.
7. What impact do you think safety and social responsibility have on the industry and how has it changed over the years?
Mexico’s willingness to embrace food safety protocols and social responsibility philosophy’s has been a large part of the industries success. We are constantly working to improve working conditions at the field, packing shed, transportation and administrative levels. This fosters consumer confidence for our products and leads to more opportunities for our farmers.
8. What are the main trends that you consider will influence the industry in the coming years?
We think some significant short term challenges will be related to our ability to afford to farm in Mexico as well as domestically. We see challenges in the affordability of fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides. But even if we can afford these farm necessities, will be able to procure them on a consistent basis going forward? The expense of seed, water, labor, transportation, fuel and energy costs have risen exponentially over the last two years. Farmers, as well as importers like ourselves, will make decisions which will have important consequences to our food supply over the next 2 to 5 years.
9. Anything else you would like to add?
I think the Mexican Agriculture Sector is uniquely positioned to continue making significant steps in proving its value to North American food consumers. We are fortunate to work during this age of food awareness and food curiosity. Our children don’t know what it is like to ask for a tomato or a peach and be told that it is out of season. We are blessed that we have great trade agreements, which allow us to have almost every commodity available to us year round and at a fair cost. So the next time you eat, remember to say a prayer for farmers all over the world. And for those families who work to feed your family!