Araceli Benitez and Maria Morales sift through bell peppers coming from Coahuila, Mexico at the San Rey produce terminal in Pharr on April 2, 2019. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

The Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge on Thursday played host to what’s become an annual kickoff celebration to the start of the produce season.

The event featured state and local representatives from Pharr, the produce industry and roughly 100 onlookers at the port — the number one fresh produce crossing location in the country, accounting for 65% of goods that enter the state.

“Pharr highlights this because Pharr’s the number one crossing for fresh produce in all of the U.S.,” said Hector Garza, director for industry affairs for the Texas International Produce Association. “They’re the port that crosses the most (produce).

“… They’ve been doing this for the past seven years, and every year it’s been growing.”

The produce season runs from October through May, with the number of crossings steadily increasing by 7% in recent years. This year, according to Garza, the bridge has 190,174 fresh produce truck crossings.

“It’s very impressive,” Garza said. “Texas also has its domestic growers, but during the off-seasons when we’re not growing in Texas, a lot of the fruit and vegetables come from Mexico.”

A large percentage of the produce that is crossed through ports in Texas disseminated to the east coast, where there is ample demand for fresh produce.

Thursday’s ceremony featured speeches from Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez and Pharr Bridge Director Luis Bazan, who gave updates on programs such as the STAC (South Texas Assets Consortium) Program, the DAP 16 (Donations Acceptance Program), and the current project in which more lanes will be added to the bridge to improve the flow of traffic.

The celebration concluded with the ceremonial cutting of the fruit.

“This time around, it was a lot shorter,” Garza said. “We wanted to make sure that we didn’t have too many speakers up there because of COVID-19. We wanted to make sure that everybody was safe.”

The ceremony also came a day before the Trump administration announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be investing $1 million to help agricultural producers in rural Texas boost production.

Funding recipients include Rio Grande Mesquite LLC and International Magsa LLC, DBA Golden Farm — both of Hidalgo County.

According to a news release, Golden Farms will receive $49,993 while Rio Grande Mesquite gets $49,750.

The funding will come from USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG).