IFB Board tours Rio Grande Valley

 Board members visit a Department of Homeland Security ag inspection station at the Texas/Mexico border. (Photos by Chris Magnuson)

Board members visit a Department of Homeland Security ag inspection station at the Texas/Mexico border. (Photos by Chris Magnuson)

By Joanie Stiers

McLean County farmer David Meiss left the southern Texas border last week even more appreciative of the safe food supply in America.

The Illinois Farm Bureau District 7 director joined fellow board members to tour the Department of Homeland Security’s Agricultural Inspection Station at Pharr International Bridge in Pharr, Texas, where more than 2,000 semis cross daily. The station inspects fruits and vegetables for pathogens, diseases and insects harmful to humans or American agriculture production.

“My takeaway from that is Americans do not understand or fully realize how fortunate we are to have this service for our food products,” Meiss said. “I really left there thinking, ‘Our food is so safe and abundant, and we need to be really thankful for that.’”

Sonny Hinojosa, general manager for Irrigation District No. 2, describes the Rio Grande pumping station to board directors.

IFB President Richard Guebert Jr., Vice President Brian Duncan and 17 directors toured the Texas Rio Grande Valley last week, gaining new insights into border inspections, water and land management, and trade. During an intense four-day schedule, the group toured sugar and citrus farms, the Port of Corpus Christi, a cattle ranch and a water pumping station on the Rio Grande River.

“The Rio Grande is an amazing, natural resource,” Meiss said. “The United States and Mexico collaborate to allocate the water, and they have engineered it to maximize the whole flow of that river that nothing gets wasted, so to speak, into the Gulf.”

Through management of that freshwater resource, the river rather resembles a stream at the point it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, Meiss said. Officials allocate the water primarily for agricultural and community use between the United States and Mexico, which impressed the board with how the countries successfully share that valuable resource.

Back on land, the board experienced King Ranch, which owns 825,000 acres -- larger than the state of Rhode Island. Ranch owners discussed their strategies with rotational grazing to protect the land and how they build animal genetics to thrive in Texas’ climate.

Following the ranch tour, the board traveled to the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers sugar mill, a top 10 producer of raw sugar in the United States.

Chad Schutz, a Greene County farmer and District 15 director, noted the environmental consciousness of sugar cane production and mill operations. The cooperative uses as much of the sugar cane plant as possible, even using the fibrous part to generate electricity that powers the mill.

Illinois Farm Bureau Board directors visit Wonderful Citrus, home of the Cutie orange during a board trip to Texas last week.

“They talked about a whole lot of things we could focus on at home as well, whether soil health, trying to figure out a better way for a plant to take up more nutrients and be as efficient as that plant can be with as few inputs as possible,” Schutz said.

He found that Texas farmers, in the grand scheme, shared similar goals with Illinois farmers regarding the environment, nutrient use, production efficiency and betterment of their land for the next generation, regardless of the crop type or livestock species.

Guebert similarly noted that farmers in the Rio Grande Valley face many of the same industry challenges, no bigger in Texas than in Illinois.

“They really want to get USMCA (the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) across the finish line,” Guebert said. “The challenges with labor down there are about the same. It’s similar all across agriculture, and it’s a tough time.”

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.