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South Texas Ag Tour Reflection: Bella Yoder

During the fourth session of the MILE Program, my fellow cohort members and I jumped on a plane and traveled over 600 miles to the Rio Grande Valley. Before we left for our trip, Dr. Kennedy explained how the atmosphere in South Texas is unlike anything we have ever seen before. Between the diversified productions of agricultural commodities, warmhearted community, and heavenly food, it was not long before each member of the cohort fully understood what Dr. Kennedy meant. Throughout the entirety of the trip, I was taken back by the assembly of production across the Rio Grande Valley and was fortunate to have an inside look at key components of the integrated food chain system in Texas.

As we visited various farms and ranches in South Texas, the agricultural industry professionals explained the importance of trade with Mexico and the positive influences our countries are able to provide for one another. Although I understood the proximity to Mexico from the operations we were visiting, I was surprised to learn the extent of food safety regulations that were in place to ensure that our trade was done with the health of our consumers in mind. Additionally, I was surprised by the stories that were told by the food safety specialists at the Pharr Port of Entry. Although they have hundreds of shipments per day, they explained the necessity of checking each truck thoroughly because of the possibility of illegal contents crossing the border. The workers pointed out that they have seen almost every trick in the book and are trained to report the illegal trucks immediately. Not only are they looking for narcotics but are analyzing every inch of the truck and trailer to detect any signs of pests or diseases. Their attention to detail is like none other, and their ability to protect our country is admirable.

During our first day in the Rio Grande Valley, we had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Brady Taubert, the general manager of RGV Gin, Incorporated. As we toured his facilities and learned about the cotton industry in South Texas, Mr. Taubert shared with us some of the pressing issues within the agricultural industry that are directly impacting the Rio Grande Valley. To begin, he expressed the negative impacts of droughts and how water conservation and retention continue to become more difficult each year. In fact, multiple farmers and ranchers we met with throughout our trip had very similar concerns. Additionally, Mr. Taubert illustrated the need for experienced labor. Due to the back-breaking requirements of agricultural labor, he said many people are unwilling to play a role in farming or ranching. As a young leader studying agricultural sciences, my hope is that these experiences will reshape my point of view and encourage me to step out in my influence and enact change. Just by being knowledgeable of the struggles the agricultural community goes through, we are able to advocate on behalf of their operations and bring light to areas in need of improvement or assistance. As I carry forward into my future career, I hope I will continue to learn and gain wisdom in order to benefit those around me.

During the second day of our trip, we were afforded the opportunity to tour the Rio Grande River in Hildalgo, Texas. Being born and raised in North East Texas, my experience and knowledge of bordering towns were very slim. However, after meeting with people like Mr. Sonny Hinojosa and other professionals in the Rio Grande Valley, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of economic and social issues. As we pulled over on the dirt-paved road, I remember Mr. Hinojosa saying, “This is it.” This is the place men, women, and children risk their lives to see. This is the line that many people hope to one day cross. In order to emerge into a culture or truly appreciate the differing regions of agriculture, I believe we must first put ourselves into the local’s shoes. As I was listening to numerous individuals speak about the dangers and risks that come from living and operating in a bordering town, the discussion always ended in the same manner. The compassion and willingness to serve their communities always glistened through the heaviness of the conversation. By teaching me how to listen before I speak, observe before I assume, and serve before I receive, his trip will not only influence the rest of my experiences within the MILE Program but will continue to encourage me as an agriculturist and community member for the rest of my life.

After diving into the Insights profile earlier in the semester, I learned different strengths and weaknesses about myself that truly came to life during our time in the Rio Grande Valley. According to my Insights profile, creating friendships with those around me naturally occurs without requiring much energy or thought. However, behaving in a confident manner does not. Throughout my time in South Texas, it was easy to strengthen friendships within my cohort and create them with the industry professionals we met. Additionally, it was easy to see my lack of confidence when prompted to ask questions or efficiently work a room. Thankfully, I was able to lean into my strengths while focusing on improving my weaknesses. This trip was eye-opening in the way it taught me how to intentionally work on areas of improvement and engage in putting my strengths into practice.

As previously mentioned, being raised on the opposite end of Texas creates a gap of knowledge and understanding between us and the people who live in the Rio Grande Valley. Thus, current events, socioeconomic struggles, or even victories in the industry can have a delay in communication. Therefore, this trip encourages me to stay up to date on the happenings of our state and do my part in advocating for the people who feed our country. By experiencing firsthand, the current events that were happening while we were in the Rio Grande Valley, I can speak on behalf of my fellow cohort members when I say that we are motivated to educate those around us and inform them of the issues happening along with the port of entry.

Bella Yoder is a junior animal science major from Lindale, Texas, and a member of the MILE Program’s third cohort.

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