Ahead of produce season, inspectors find rare pest in produce load

Just before the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge holds its annual produce season launch event next week, federal inspectors in late September found an unknown pest in pads of prickly pears.

While the shipment was returned to Mexico, the pest was sent to a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomology laboratory, where an initial identification found the pest to be the Dysschema mariamne, a type of moth. USDA entomologists said this pest had never been found at any of the nation’s ports of entry.

Unique discoveries by the authorities such as this are not unusual at the Pharr bridge. Last year, inspectors at the bridge found a rare beetle in a shipment of limes, also a first-ever find. Commercial trucks have been crossing the Pharr bridge in larger numbers than ever in both directions — 53,662 commercial trucks crosse from Pharr into Mexico in August, up nearly 3,500 trucks from August 2018.

“By intercepting these exotic pests, our agriculture specialists help protect American agriculture and contribute to the nation’s economic security by denying entry to invasive species not known to exist in the U.S.,” Customs and Border Protection’s port director in Pharr, Carlos Rodriguez, said in a statement Thursday.

In hopes of encouraging more agriculture-interested students to potentially pursue careers as specialists at the bridge, CBP, the city of Pharr, the Texas International Produce Association and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have joined to create an internship program. The goal is for students to work with agriculture specialists and federal authorities, providing an “opportunity for these students to get into a federal agency,” officials spearheading the program said.