PHARR, Texas (Border Report) — With the noisy rumbling of 18-wheelers in the background, dignitaries and community leaders from South Texas and Mexico celebrated the start of produce season and the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables on Thursday morning at the base of the Pharr International Bridge.

Texas Workforce Commissioner Julian Alvarez prepares to cut a melon to kick off the start of the 2021-22 Produce Season during a ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, at the Pharr International Bridge. Pharr Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez is behind, far right. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

And they had much to celebrate as this bridge is the No. 1 port in the nation for the transport of produce from Mexico into the United States.

Over 65% of all produce in the United States comes over this bridge, which leads to Reynosa, Mexico. There are 200,000 produce shipments per year that leaders say provide a boost to the region’s trade and workforce.

“We have the No. 1 produce-crossing bridge in the country. That’s amazing,” Texas Workforce Commissioner Julian Alvarez, a native of the Rio Grande Valley who represents labor for the entire state, told hundreds in the crowd at Thursday’s ceremony.

“It’s very important for Mexico, for the people on both sides,” Bridge Director Luis Bazán said in Spanish.

The Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge is No. 1 for transport of avocadoes and pineapples; No. 2 for berries and No. 3 for tomatoes, and its leaders have lofty plans to expand the bridge, its workforce and how it serves the border communities in the future, they said.

“We are the No. 1 port of entry for produce. We know that we feed the world in collaboration with the Mexican government, the beautiful people of Mexico, all their growers and all their entrepreneurs. They move products that keeps us healthy: the fruits and vegetables,” Pharr Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez told Border Report.

Hundreds from Mexico and South Texas gathered at the base of the Pharr International Bridge on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, to celebrate the Start of the 2021-22 Produce Season. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photos)

Alvarez said city and bridge officials, as well as growers and produce managers are partnering with local colleges and universities to provide educational programs to boost qualified workers who can inspect cargo for pests, help patrol bridges, help to expand bridge infrastructure and improve growing capabilities in this region commonly known as “The Valley.”

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Hernandez said bridge trade has not suffered as it has been even more important to get healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables to American tables.

Although bridge traffic decreased in August from the year before, the number of southbound trucks actually increased by 7.6% from the previous year. Revenue for August alone was $1.4 million from the bridge, an increase of almost 7%, according to the City of Pharr’s bridge website.

Title 42 restrictions still remain to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and restrict travel to essential workers and trade.

Decorative colorful paper flags, or papel picado, hung from the protective overhang at the base of the bridge, and boxes of fresh squash, papayas, avocadoes, lemons, watermelons and tomatoes served as an edible backdrop for Thursday’s ceremony.

Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, mayor of Pharr, Texas, cut into a papaya along with other border leaders on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, to kick off the start of the 2021-22 produce season in South Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Instead of cutting a ribbon to start the season, 12 dignitaries got on the makeshift stage and cut through 12 fruits: papayas, melons and watermelons.

Over the past two years the Pharr International Bridge has increased its agricultural inspection facilities, as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff to help get trucks through quicker and reduce produce spoilage suffered when rigs have to wait to cross the international bridge.

Hernandez promised that by 2023 the lines will be even shorter.

Said Hernandez: “When Pharr succeeds we all succeed.”