But the situation became even worse on June 6, when the computer system used by Mexico’s fruit inspectors went down. Produce trucks approaching Nogales backed up for hours until the electronics issue was resolved. Finally, late on June 6, trucks started moving. Special provisions were made to receive 330 trucks on Sunday, June 7.
Without the Tomato Suspension Agreement and long before anyone had heard of the coronavirus, June in Nogales was still an annual “carefully orchestrated miracle” to handle all the grape volume, Jungmeyer said. “It is all a very delicate dance.”
As a result, FPAA plans well in advance with the trade and USDA inspectors, as well as the Arizona Department of Agriculture, which supplies inspectors to boost border numbers. Jungmeyer said the FPAA office in Nogales is regularly a meeting point for the industry and auxiliary support to meet and solve problems. But the coronavirus moved in-person meetings to Zoom. Thus, the clarity and efficiency of communication have been challenged, he noted.
Grape quality inspections are done by lots, so different varieties on one truck may require six or seven types of inspections. Some warehouses have inspection needs as high as 100 lots per day.
Nogales grape grower-distributors have in recent years introduced many new grape varieties, and inspections of these many lots slow the process. Jungmeyer noted that the sweet varieties, such as Cotton Candy, can have high Brix levels “that are off the charts,” and thus may cause inspectors to read that fruit as overly mature, when, in fact, it’s just really sweet.
The FPAA is working with USDA to simplify the grape inspection by lumping the new specialty varieties into one sweet category to expedite the process.
Jungmeyer noted there are three weeks left in the peak of the Mexican table grape deal. “Our carefully choreographed miracle requires even more choreographing. Mondays are high-volume days.” So, after June 8 “there are two more Mondays after this which will have big volume.”