Produce imports continue to boost Arizona’s economy, and the numbers don’t lie. In fact, nearly $4.8 billion-worth of economic activity was reported last fall, creating more than 33,000 full- and part-time jobs in the sector, especially around our state’s ports of entry. A majority of that produce comes through the Nogales-area port of entry, hauling in everything from squash to strawberries.
Now, Gov. Doug Ducey is touting a new budget plan that includes $700,000 for a new cold inspection facility at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales. The plan is to retrofit an existing facility and enhance it with more temperature-controlled spaces to be able to house more produce. The updated facility could extend the state’s produce import season, thus opening up opportunities for more jobs and more economic growth.
“With better temperature controls and more modern infrastructure, we think it would entice certain products that aren’t crossed at Nogales to use the facility, which would increase trade and traffic, and drive more economic input here in Arizona,” Scott Vandervoet, Chairman of the Board of Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales said.
“What we want to do is improve our infrastructure for handling perishables. This project would improve the cold storage capacity for commercial goods when fruits and veggies are unloaded at the port,” Vandervoet said. “They can spend time there while things are being inspected. For temperature-sensitive items, this would improve the facility.”
The facility in Nogales would allow produce distributors to import more berries and leafy greens from Mexico. Currently, a lot of those items go through Texas ports of entry, in part because of their locations to central Mexico where berries and leafy greens, for example, are produced.
The major push behind this proposal is partially due to our state’s climate with heat being a burden on facilities having to house and keep produce fresh. But an updated cold inspection facility could extend the import season well into the summer months. According to Vandervoet, there currently are temperature-controlled rooms, but this project would improve those rooms and give more control. This would modernize that section of that facility.
In 2018, it is estimated that over 6.3 billion pounds of fresh produce came through Nogales alone. But Arizona’s ports of entry lack the facilities to offer a cold chain for temperature sensitive commodities, like berries, avocados and shrimp – all very high value commodities, notes economic adviser Luis Ramirez.
“Without the cold chain, producers of these commodities have opted to send their products through ports in Texas and California, bypassing Arizona,” Ramirez said. “This has contributed to Arizona losing market share in the total flow of fresh produce between Mexico and the United States, though Nogales remains the single largest port in terms of volume, for fresh produce on the entire border.”
So far, about $500,000 has been put aside by those in the industry and county government officials to help fund the project, in addition to Gov. Ducey’s proposed $700,000. There is no timeline as of yet as to when the facility will be built, but there is a good chance it will be operational before the next produce season in the Nogales region, which begins in October.