We had the chance to interview Lance Jungermeyer, Chairman of the Fresh Produce Association of The Americas in Nogales, Arizona. He told us about his experience on running this great farming organization, which has remained active for over 75 years and counting.
In this interesting conversation, he shares his insights and perspective on significant subjects such as: The UMSCA Free Trade Agreement, food safety, social responsibility, sustainability and what will be the main trends he believes will impact the industry in the coming years.
1. Can you share a bit about your professional career and what it has been like to lead the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA).
Since after college, my career has revolved in one way or another around Mexico and fresh produce. I first worked in newspapers in Mexico City, then from 1995-2008 I landed at the fresh produce industry newspaper The Packer, where I became Editor and led all editorial operations. Along the way, I traveled to Nogales numerous times, and it was there where I made relationships that would prove beneficial when the President position became available at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. Since 2010, I’ve been honored to lead an amazing team of professionals at FPAA who are dedicated to working with USDA, FDA, CBP and other agencies to keep the border working for fresh produce imports from Mexico. The FPAA has been in existence since 1944 and we have a mandate to keep going.
2. How has it been for you to be part of such relevant organizations such as: Border Trade Alliance, United Fresh Produce Association’s, Canadian Produce Marketing Association, among others?
The great thing about working for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas is by extension I have the opportunity to work alongside professionals and industry volunteers from a variety of organizations, both within the fresh produce sector and outside of it. As co-chair of the North American Trade Work Group of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, it’s a great chance to keep apprised of ongoings between the three nations and our various agriculture associations. Similarly, for almost a decade FPAA has co-chaired the North American Produce Food Safety Working Group, which brings together industry with regulators such as FDA, SENASICA and Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Both of these groups meet twice a year, and we encourage more participation. Meanwhile, as vice-chairman of the Border Trade Alliance, opportunities arise to collaborate with other Southwest border sectors such as automotive, tourism, banking and logistics. There are many shared issues from the crossings in Texas to Arizona to San Diego and all points in between.
3. Can you share the history and importance of FPAA?
FPAA was founded in 1944, to represent the interests of American-based importers and distributors of Mexican fruits and vegetables. At the beginning we were known as the West Mexico Vegetable Distributors Association. Over time, the name Fresh Produce Association of the Americas was adopted. What is great is we have several companies who have been members since the early years, and have remained. Staying with an organization for 75 years shows dedication, and that drives us as staff to return the dedication and support.
4. How important is Mexican agriculture for the fresh produce industry in the US?
Without Mexican fresh fruits and vegetables, the rest of North America would not eat as well, especially during the winter months. Truly, the availability of Mexican produce helps improve nutrition and thus the life span of all consumers in North America, from the northern tip of Alaska, all through Canada, and throughout the continental United States, and of course Mexico. We are all Americans, and we live richer lives because of healthful, flavorful fresh produce that is available 12 months a year.
5. What are the main services / benefits of the FPAA membership?
First, there is the sense of belonging and common purpose. There are always challenges in our industry, and we consider our chief task as maintaining market access. This can take the shape of working with FDA or USDA on technical/regulatory issues.
Or defending the interests of importers before the Department of Commerce, the International Trade Commission or other governmental bodies. Without the support of FPAA members, none of this work would be possible.
6. What are the main projects the FPAA is currently working on?
We have been very active in the food safety area, as well as in working with USDA on Marketing Order regulations such as for tomatoes, grapes and citrus. Each season, there are unique challenges that oftentimes require an all-hands-on-deck approach. In recent years, we have devoted extra attention to trade issues such as the ITC investigations into blueberries, bell peppers, strawberries, cucumbers, squash and raspberries. Taken together, along with tomatoes, well over half of Mexican produce exports are under some form of investigation or sanction, which we believe to have been unfairly and politically motivated. Nonetheless, we take pride in working to keep market access open. We rely on the support of American-based importers to make this possible.
7. What events does the FPAA organize annually and how do they benefit the membership?
We have hosted 52 installments of the Nogales Fall Convention and Golf Tournament, and this is every November. It’s a great way to kick off the importing season, both by connecting with old friends and getting down to serious business. In the past 15 years, we have hosted a Spring Policy Summit, which has evolved over the years. We had to cancel the last two, and we are eager to resume on March 16, 2022. Check out www.freshfrommexico.com to learn more about the schedule and format.
8. How does an organization like FPAA manage to stay for more than 70 years serving the fresh produce industry?
9. What is your perspective regarding the free trade agreement between Mexico, the United States and Canada and what benefits / challenges will it bring to the industry?
Achieving the USMCA or TMEC was a major challenge, and it feels like the negotiation is still not over. The issue of seasonal produce being a political football continues, despite the agreement being signed. The industry now must understand and comply with the various enforcement aspects of the agreement, including for labor enforcement.
10. What impact do you consider food safety, social responsibility and sustainability have on the industry and how has it changed over the years?
The industry dedication to improving these items continues to grow. And also government regulators in all three North American countries are updating standards for food safety, social responsibility and sustainability. While there are challenges everywhere, distributors of Mexican produce are in an enviable position. Mexican produce is oftentimes grown in protected environments that reduce water usage, while simultaneously reducing insect pressures and thus reducing chemical inputs. Mexico continues to advance worker social responsibility.
11. Do you think these issues will have any impact on consumers in the short term?
Mexican producers have a shared commitment to take the best steps for workers and the planet, while keeping consumers happy and well fed with nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. The time is right for these themes to come together, and the future is bright.
12. What are the main trends that you think will influence the industry in the coming years?
We will see technology continue to transform the supply chain, whether through blockchain innovations or other efficiencies such as Artificial Intelligence in the warehouse and distribution/logistics settings, and growing practices. These improvements will allow for more dedication to worker development in emerging tech, providing long-term employment opportunities up and down the supply chain.