By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTNogales means “walnuts” in Spanish, but to growers, shippers and importers it conjures up images of melons, tomatoes, citrus, peppers, squash and gourds, beans, grains, corn, tropical fruits, avocados, and even grapes and apples. That’s because Nogales is the largest port of entry for agricultural products from Mexico into the United States. Some 1,300 trucks pass through the Arizona port daily. Nearly 1,000 of them haul produce.
“Depending on the year, nearly 60% of Mexico’s seasonal fruits and vegetables—over 120 different commodities, are imported through Nogales,” states Manuel Trujillo, Jr., chief of Agriculture Operations, US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Nogales, AZ.
Included are half of Mexico’s exported mangoes and one-third of its avocados. The produce comes primarily from the Mexican states of Sinaloa and the Senora.
“We are lucky that the commodities that come through have a low risk for pests and plant diseases,” Trujillo comments.
This means the port to can operate under the National Agriculture Release Program (NARP), implemented in January by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). NARP provides a methodology for evaluating high-volume agriculture imports that are low-risk. Eighty percent of the commodities that come through Nogales qualify for NARP.
To be eligible, commercial shipments in the same inspectional unit (e.g., container, truck, or vessel compartment) must contain a single commodity or a mix of commodities on NARP’s approved list. These commodities may be inspected at reduced rates.
“We inspect anywhere from one out of 20 truck loads to one out of 50 truck loads, depending on the commodity,” Trujillo reveals. An exception is leafy vegetables, which is considered a higher risk commodity. Here a representative two percent of every load must be inspected. The average exam takes approximately 20 minutes. The goal is to find produce that is in violation.
Sometimes it’s the packaging, not the produce, however, that is in violation. In the case of mangoes, examiners look closely for broken seals on boxes and containers and evidence of tampering.
“Mangoes are not necessarily offloaded, however, unless there is a question regarding the paperwork or we have received information from International Services in Mexico that pests or disease has been found in the fields,” says Tracy Encinas, supervisor for Agricultural Specialists, CBP.
Last Spring inspectors found evidence of pests tunneling in the packing material and wood boxes containing mangoes.
“The materials and boxes should have been heat treated and fumigated to be certified,” he says.
Consequently, most of the mango shipments had to be returned to their Mexican point of origin for repacking and re-certification. Now all mango shipments must be examined.
Layers of inspectionsBesides agricultural violations, examiners look for narcotics, weapons, and radioactive material. To expedite the process, information on each shipment, regardless of its contents, is sent electronically to CBP officials in Nogales a minimum of two hours and a maximum of five days before its arrival.
“The system will give the shipment a thorough risk analysis and a weighted score,” explains Brian D. Levin, CBP public affairs liaison.
When examining the goods, officers do not rely solely on electronic information or any aspect of the shipment. They take a layered approach. All trucks enter a pre-screening area where officers examine paperwork, the vehicle and the driver. They open truck doors, do spot checks, review the manifest, talk to the driver, examine the inside of the truck’s cab, and look at its structure components: the tires, gas tanks, roofs, and walls. The average inspection takes about 45 minutes.
“Based on visual observations, they determine if there is a risk,” Levin says. “If they feel there is, the issue i