CBS Features Tommy Wilkins in Ripple Effect of Border Issues

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Sun. April 14th, 2019 - by Melissa De Leon Chavez

DONNA, TX - It is rare to see produce’s inside perspective portrayed in consumer-facing news, especially in the political ring, but that’s what happened this past weekend when CBS featured 40-plus year industry veteran Tommy Wilkins.

The Director of Sales for Grow Farms, Texas, was interviewed by the national syndication in pursuit of the ripple effects of border delays and possible closures on the consumer’s access to fresh produce.

Tommy Wilkins, Director of Sales, Grow Farms Texas“What has typically been a five-hour window to cross the border has gone to at least a full day—it’s just not the best thing for the commodities we handle,” Wilkins told CBS of the shift in CBP resources a few weeks ago. To give viewers perspective, he shared that Grow Farms is currently in the peak of avocado harvest, key to upcoming Cinco de Mayo meals, and that if we did not have the supply out of Mexico “we wouldn’t see the guacamole that we have opportunity to consume 52 weeks a year.”

CBS reported that $14B worth of fresh produce comes into the U.S. every year from Mexico, half of it through the Texas ports of entry

While this is something we in the industry are well aware of, it was a huge step to see it come from CBS reporters, who in studio discussed that the average consumer doesn’t realize how critical the border is to what we eat.

As hosts Dana Jacobsen and Michelle Miller put it, “When it hits you at home in your refrigerator, and the price suddenly jumps, you wake up to it.”

Dante Galeazzi, President and CEO of Texas International Produce Association, shared with CBS that it isn’t just a food issue but an employment one as well.

Dante Galleazzi, President and CEO, Texas International Produce Association“Politics aside, business is business. Trade is there, without the trade, without the flow we are going to start talking about job losses and no one wants to see that, it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you sit on,” Galeazzi commented.

CBS reported that $14B worth of fresh produce comes into the U.S. every year from Mexico, half of it through the Texas ports of entry. Already, U.S. Senator John Cornyn asked that any long-term strategies keep trade in mind because it affects the entire nation.

This last week, CBS featured 40-plus year industry veteran Tommy Wilkins

Cornyn sent a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to make produce issues at the border a priority, writing, “The diversion of frontline CBP personnel from these ports, and the threat of a possible closure in the future, threatens to have a debilitating impact on the overall health of Texas’ economy.”

While solutions continue to be sought out to existing issues on both sides of the border, Wilkins implored officials to keep the fight in the ring, so to speak.

“For the food supply either there or here to be used as a political tool is a little discouraging to me. And they are using the produce consumption to battle the immigration issue,” he concluded. “Everybody in Washington needs to go to work, agree we have a problem, and fix it. Not use or disrupt the food supply to do that.”

As all sides continue to seek a resolution that will not impact the welfare of the food supply, AndNowUKnow will report the latest.