SAN ANTONIO — Though he’s planning to retire as the president of the Mission-based Texas Produce Association gradually over the next few months, John McClung has no intentions of stepping away from the produce industry permanently.

McClung’s new project has him plenty busy. McClung has been at the helm of TIPA’s new Border Issues Management Program.

Program broadens Texas association’s scopeWith the drastic increase in produce trucks coming through Texas ports of entry, the former Texas Produce Association — which changed its name and broadened its focus to the Texas International Produce Association — found itself in need of a formal structure to handle the variety of issues associated with those crossings.

“The industry recognizes that this is a perfect storm situation because we have a very substantial increase in volume that is going to come out of Mexico once this infrastructure is in place,” McClung said. “As pleased as we are to attract that business to the Rio Grande Valley, we are really going to have some difficult problems that almost all have to do with congestion and infrastructure at the ports of entry.”

McClung spoke at the Texas Produce Convention, Aug. 15-17, where the import program was announced.

BIMP is a voluntary program, under which importers agree to pay the Texas International Produce Association $8 per 2.5-ton and larger produce truck crossing from Mexico. The association will work with customs brokers to invoice importers, and customs brokers will be reimbursed a part of that per-truck fee, McClung said.

“That money will be used to address the many kinds of problems that are going on at the bridges,” McClung said. “Just in the last couple of months, we’ve had a papaya salmonella incident, a Mexican labor dispute, and just recently we’re dealing with the tomato suspension situation. That’s a huge deal for tomato importers.”

Other issues such as petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change lime quality standards, dealing with the implications of the Food Safety Modernization Act and legislative and regulatory requirements, all fall to BIMP.

“The Texas Produce Association had historically been a grower organization and in the last decade we’ve increasingly shifted our staff activities to mirror the import volume increase, and the trouble with that was that we were dealing with international issues with money from domestic members,” McClung said. “It was becoming apparent that for us to have enough resources, and if we were going to continue to focus on imports, we needed a new structure to do it.”

So far, the program has been an easy sell, McClung said.

“We’ve had tremendous response,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, the whole U.S. and Mexican produce communities understand that the problems are very real and will continue.”