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Produce at the Border

Ray Connelly
May 13, 2019 10:48:39 AM

President Trump has threated to shut down the United States border in the wake of the thousands of people trying to enter the country from Mexico. More than 100,000 migrants were apprehended by Border Patrol agents in April, the highest monthly total in a decade, and the option to close the border for all traffic, people and commerce, is a real possibility.

But what would a complete shutdown of the border do to the U.S. supply of fresh fruits and vegetables from Mexico? The United Fresh Produce Association warns that closing the border "will cause significant harm to growers, wholesale distributors, transportation companies, grocery stores, restaurants and most importantly, U.S. consumers.”

It seems a shutdown would include both people and commerce. And while there is little connection between pedestrians — illegal or otherwise — and international trade, companies on the border estimate that distribution centers would be empty in about one week, and depending on the shelf life of various types of fresh produce, retail stores would run out completely in about 2-3 weeks.

trucks-waiting-borderTo understand why, consider the most common transportation option for fresh food: trucks. It’s staggering how many trucks come across the border. In 2018, official records show that more than 6 million trucks passed through border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico. There’s actually a great website you can check out to view the latest wait times for all Southern border crossings. You can also view bridge webcams in popular border crossings such as El Paso and Laredo.

Of course, fresh fruits and vegetables are among the most perishable and time-sensitive products crossing the border, requiring timely inspections and delivery. Any delay for those trucks at the border – even an extra 15 minutes of wait time – causes a ripple effect across the supply chain. Those 15 minutes result in as much as $1 billion in lost productivity and 134,000 lost in jobs.

So what should those of us in the fresh food business do?

Perhaps it is worth listening to the advice of one of the largest fresh food logistics companies in the world: CH Robinson. In a recent blog post, Jason Craig, CH Robinson’s director of government affairs, offered the following suggestions:

  1. Access a broad network of transportation modes to mitigate against the risk of closures by leveraging air and rail services to make sure your freight keeps moving.
  2. Make sure your transportation service provider has secure trailer yards and warehouses to temporarily store your shipment, just in case.
  3. Pre-validate all customs documents prior to dispatching your shipment.
  4. Make sure that all internal team members and external customers understand the current volatility and are validating purchase orders before being shipped to or from the border.

And of course we all want our government to get its act together. I think United Fresh put it well when they said:

The solution to our immigration problems is not closing the border or slowing commercial traffic, but for Congress and the administration to work together on real immigration reform. That is why our association continues to call upon our nation’s leaders to get on with sensible reform that ensures a legal workforce for agriculture together with a functional border.

I like the sound of that!

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