Food News

Border Backlog Gets Local: 'People Have to Eat. People are Feeling the Pinch of Higher Prices.'

Local produce wholesalers are worried about incoming products after border days-long border delays.
Local produce wholesalers are worried about incoming products after border days-long border delays. Lauren Drewes Daniels
A bit of political theater last week by Texas Governor Greg Abbott is playing out at the detriment of small local businesses and consumers. All could see a shortage of goods or increases in produce prices over the coming weeks because of it.

On April 8, Abbott announced that he’d authorized state troopers to inspect trucks crossing from Mexico into Texas in retaliation for President Biden ending Title 42, an early pandemic-era policy that allowed for the quick expulsions of undocumented immigrants. (Title 42 was started by the CDC under former President Donald Trump's administration.)

These extra inspections caused a log jam of trucks at the border crossing in Pharr, Texas, which handles $60 to $70 million in imports daily. Trucks full of produce bound for distributors across the U.S. sat idle for days, some in protest of the new inspections, others waiting to be inspected. Border Report estimates that $1 billion in trade was lost due to the truck inspections.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller called the situation a catastrophe. Miller told CBS 11 that Texans could see $2 limes and lemons and avocados as high as $5 each.

Getting fresh produce from Mexico and onto store shelves is a strategic process. Avocados from Mexico are picked before they are ripe, then are refrigerated and shipped to cool-storage facilities prior to hitting grocery stores, allowing for a longer shelf life for both sellers and consumers.

We spoke to Essie Rodriguez of J.D. Rodriguez Produce in Dallas. They sell produce to local taquerias, food trucks and neighborhood residents. They’re worried about what type of product will be rolling in over the next two weeks.

“We understand that some of the trucks ran out of refrigerant that they need to keep the product cool,” Rodriguez says. “Avocados and tomatoes, they’re just sitting in the truck and by the time they get here to resell, it’s going to be ripened. The mere fact that they’re sitting in the truck and not being delivered, it raises the prices here locally.”

On Friday, April 11, Abbott called off the extra inspections, but unwinding the backlog could take a week.
click to enlarge Local wholesalers like JD Rodriguez Produce worry about having enough product and what price they'll need to sell it at. - LAUREN DREWES DANIELS
Local wholesalers like JD Rodriguez Produce worry about having enough product and what price they'll need to sell it at.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Rodriguez says they used to see three or four trucks a day, but are seeing far less this week.

“It feels like it’s a lot of politics,” Rodriguez says. “They put the blame on each other. Locally the Texas governor blames Biden, Biden blames the state officials. And it’s back and forth. But get to the bottom of it: People have to eat. People are feeling the pinch of higher prices.”

Rodriguez says that avocados are $75 to $85 a box wholesale now. "So we have to turn around we still have to put our little margin of maybe 25 to 30 percent, so the consumer is paying high dollar for all the Mexican products. Avocados, pineapples, kiwi, the lettuce, carrots, you name it, it’s coming from Mexico. It affects a lot of stores, that’s why the prices are so much higher.”

The timing of the increased inspections was particularly bad because stores were preparing for the Easter rush at stores. Rodriguez worries about the effects of prices and supply if this quagmire doesn't unfold prior to Mother’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.

On April 11, Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA) sent a letter to Abbott stating that his Texas Border Truck Inspections Enforcement Action has severely impacted trade.

“Unfortunately, the loss of inventory, freshness, and sales will never be recovered, and these losses are a direct economic loss to Texas companies, and lost sales to their customers around North America,” Jungmeyer wrote.

Robert Guenther is the chief policy officer at the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA). In a statement released April 14, he said this could result in millions of lost economic production and “produce that was destined to U.S. consumers, in some cases, will have to be destroyed because of the perishability of our products.”

“I feel for the brokers in the Valley,” Rodriguez said. “We order a lot from the Texas Valley, when the product gets there from customs and it's checked, they have to turn around and sell it to us wholesalers, but when they get it it may already be ripened so they lower the prices just to get rid of it. It has a domino effect for everyone.”
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.