With only about one month to go until the Texas International Produce Association holds its annual Viva Fresh, that signature event is commanding much of the staff’s attention. But it has plenty of competition as TIPA has many different irons in the fire.
President/CEO Dante Galeazzi recently outlined the many initiatives that are occupying his time but agreed that Viva Fresh is top of mind.
“We are moving forward and are very excited for this year’s show,” he said during a Jan. 6 interview with The Produce News.
He explained that because of the coronavirus pandemic that was in full bloom when the 2021 show was held, TIPA limited participation to 1,200 registrants and had many protocols and precautions in place to assure the safety of the participants.
“This year we are opening it back up to pre-pandemic levels,” he revealed. “We are expecting close to 2,000 attendees, which is about what we had in the three years prior to COVID-19.”
This year’s event will be held over three days – April 21-23 – and will feature a golf tournament and wine tasting event on the first day; a meet and greet breakfast, educational sessions, a virtual field tour and several receptions the second day; and speed meetings with buyers, the keynote luncheon and a robust trade show on day three. Galeazzi expects there to be at least 200 exhibitors.
The event will be held at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, TX, which is near Dallas. Registration and other information are available on the TIPA website and at vivafresh.com.
Galeazzi said the event has been designed to mirror “Texas hospitality” which he defined as a “relaxed atmosphere with plenty of time to network and meet people. Isn’t that why we go to these events?” he asked rhetorically. “That is a priority pillar for Viva Fresh!”
While TIPA will be vigilant to assure the safety of attendees, Galeazzi said the association will not be deterred from holding the event.
“The world continues to turn, and we need to continue to move forward. We will take all the precautions necessary, continue to monitor the situation and evolve as we need to, but we will find a way to hold this event,” he promised.
Galeazzi said Viva Fresh typifies the South Texas produce industry in that it is a combination of domestic and Mexico production.
“It is a regional trade show that highlights everything that is happening in South Texas,” he said.
He noted that South Texas is home to a vibrant agricultural community that includes impressive domestic production and $9 billion of agricultural commerce that shipped into the community from Mexico last year.
“In the fiscal year for the Pharr Bridge, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 209,532 loads of produce passed over the bridge. That is a massive increase from just 10 years ago.”
The growth in commerce is reflected in the growth of the Texas International Produce Association. TIPA now has more than 350 member companies compared to less than 200 companies a decade ago.
Galeazzi said many produce companies established in other parts of the United States and Canada have set up Texas operations to capitalize on the advantages inherent in the state. He noted that product shipped from Texas can get anywhere in the country in about three days. Housing prices, though they have skyrocketed since the pandemic, are still cheap in comparison to many other regions of the state. And there is still lots of land waiting to be developed.
In fact, he said urbanization is a challenge in South Texas causing production agriculture to move a little bit further out into the rural areas, but there is room to do so.
TIPA connects with its member throughout the year in many different ways. As Galeazzi was preparing for Viva Fresh, he was also putting the finishing touches on TIPA’s Hall of Fame event, which was scheduled for Jan. 24. The Wiesehan Family is this year’s inductee while the late Harold Wilkins (father of Tommy Wilkins) and Scott Fletcher of the Allen Lund Company will also be honored with separate awards.
TIPA also holds regular lunch and learn sessions, will have a golf tournament in July and hold its skeet shooting contest in November. Galeazzi said the association will also hold another event in 2022 aimed at the younger members of the industry and will continue to hold virtual seminars when the need arises.
The well-known South Texas citrus industry did have a major setback in early 2021 with a devastating freeze, but Galeazzi said the industry will come back over the next few years. “This year we are anticipating a short season with only about 30 percent of a normal crop. Next year, we should hit 60-70 percent.”
He observed that the area seems to be hit with a pretty bad freeze every three decades or so but the faithful replant and move forward. Looking for a sliver lining, Galeazzi said growers are using the opportunity to remove underperforming groves and planting newer and better varieties. In the long run, he expects there may be less acreage but volume will be the same or higher because of better yields.
“Growers are also adding new technologies in an effort to minimize the next freeze when it comes,” he offered.
Galeazzi said representing the ag industry before state and federal legislators remains a key component of TIPA. He said one key area has to do with water availability. This is a long-range project but he said it is no secret that much of South Texas gets its water from the Rio Grande. That river, in turn, is fed partly by the Colorado River, which has been severely impacted by drought in recent years. The TIPA chief executive said water storage, allocation and conveyance have to be addressed but it will not be an easy task for agriculture’s need to be heard and taken care of.
But TIPA will continue to fight the good fight.