Last week, FreshPlaza reported on how the produce industry is being affected by the current partial government shutdown in the United States. With the shutdown now entering its fourth week, more reports are coming that highlight the many and varied problems being faced by growers and shippers of fresh produce on the ground.
Dante Galeazzi (right), President of the Texas International Produce Association, shared observations from South Texas, an important link in the produce chain in the United States and also the center of the cause of the shutdown - the proposed border wall. Galeazzi confirmed that the border is fully open and functioning properly.
"South Texas has been fortunate in that many of the personnel operating at the border are considered 'essential', so they’ve been cleared to continue working through the shutdown," he said. "CBP inspectors, FDA inspectors, USDA entomologists - they’ll keep working on the front-lines so that fresh produce will continue flowing."
Industry waits for federal grants and programs to resume
In last week's report, growers shared with FreshPlaza that various programs have ceased while the shutdown continues. These include functions such as disaster relief, insurances, farm loans and other programs that help growers and shippers in the produce industry. It has also been widely reported that federal employees are not being paid. This also extends to certain non-government agencies that rely on these programs to run.
"Any programs or pending projects including grants and what they provide are not coming through," Galeazzi observed. "That affects the progress of marketing and research in the industry. Regionally, we’re working on developing a gateway hiring program for local federal agencies and that application has made zero progress in three weeks because there is no one in DC to look at it."
The Border Wall
The main cause of the government shutdown is the deadlock surrounding federal funding for the proposed Border Wall. With a 1,200 mile border with Mexico, Texas is at the center of it, especially as the state will host the vast majority of the proposed new wall. The other states that share a border with Mexico, including California, Arizona and New Mexico, already have a physical barrier for most of their border. Texas on the other hand, is unique in that the Rio Grande makes up the majority of the border and therefore there is no physical wall for much of it. There is great concern from some growers that the proposed wall will cut off vast areas of agricultural land.
"We do have our concerns in this region about the construction of a border wall," Galeazzi explained. "South Texas is not like the areas of California, Arizona or New Mexico where the largest sections of the border wall exists today. In South Texas, current construction plans call for building the wall along a levee system on the US side of the border, which is anywhere from half a mile to several miles away from the Rio Grande river. Thus, the wall would be separating America from America, and it would likely require the government appropriate US farmland along the river for the space needed to build that wall. It would mean taking away resources from our American farmers and further decreasing the number of viable farming acres in our region."
Galeazzi added that the industry is supportive of border control measures, but suggested that other methods might be a better fit for the region. "The President visited McAllen last week and we’re thankful for the additional federal resources – especially those that help facilitate trade," he said. "Our region supports border security and the dedication of resources necessary to do so. However, we would like to see the administration take a different approach to the issue, perhaps more in line with US Congressman Hurd's suggestions for a security plan using technology to gain operational control of the border, especially for this region."