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Cuban Information Exchange Brings Millers to Kansas Farm

Wheat Organization Pushes for Normalized Trade Between U.S., Cuba.

If the nation of Cuba were allowed normalized trade with the United States, it would represent a potential 800,000 metric tons (30 million bushels) of U.S.-grown wheat.

For that reason, the Kansas Wheat Commission hosted a team of Cuban grain millers and processors to Kansas, to acquaint the Cuban professionals with how Kansas wheat is grown. “We want our guests to learn the benefits of buying Kansas-grown wheat, and we wanted to understand how the Cuban people prefer to buy agriculture goods,”" said Daniel Heady, director of governmental affairs for the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and Kansas Wheat Commission.

“We reached out to Cuba in a good way to get the trade conversation started,” said Jay Armstrong, who farms near Muscotah, Kansas. The participants of this Cuban Information Exchange, which included three representatives from the Cuban milling company IMSA, visited Armstrong’s farm. Corn harvest was in full swing there, and wheat planting was set to begin.

Cuba’s markets are growing due to tourism and increased personal incomes of its 11 million citizens. Besides wheat, the country imports soybeans, feed grain, and corn, among other commodities.

“We want these products in Cuba,” said Ruben Arrieta, economic and trade office minister at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. “Due to the condition of the trade relationship between our two countries, that isn’t possible yet. But we are working on that. This visit to Kansas is an example of the effort to change the situation for the better.”

Since 1960, the U.S. has placed a trade embargo upon Cuba, although that began to soften in 2014. Now, Cuba can buy products from the U.S., but it must pay in cash.

Armstrong, past chairman of the checkoff-funded KWC, is a staunch proponent of trade with Cuba. “When nations trade, they come together. It’s time to turn Cuba into our friends,” he said. “The trade embargo against Cuba has not worked.”

In addition to Armstrong’s farm, the group traveled to USDA agencies in Kansas City and Manhattan, Kansas, plus grain science laboratories at Kansas State University in Manhattan. This is a first-of-its-kind trade mission for Cuba. “Farm groups have been to Cuba, and we wanted to flip the script and bring them to Kansas,” Heady said. “Cuba is a natural trading partner with the United States, and it wants to do business with us. We think bringing Cuban farm groups here helps the relationship a great deal.”

Working Together

A group called Engage Cuba, a coalition of private companies and organizations, is working on U.S.-Cuba legislative advocacy and business relationships. The organization has launched state councils in 15 states, with Kansas and Missouri coming on board September 19.

Currently, Cuba obtains most of its wheat from Europe and Canada. In a statement, Armstrong challenged the next Congress to normalize trade relations with Cuba and to end the U.S. trade embargo against the country entirely.

“With current decade-low commodity prices and pressures on the U.S. ag economy, we need to be fostering trade partners and relationships – not prohibiting them,” he said. “Despite many difficulties associated with the U.S. trading with Cuba, it is apparent that we have a major transportation and logistical advantage in shipping, given Cuba’s proximity to the United States. A level playing field with Canada and Europe is critical for U.S. wheat farmers to fully realize their export potential to Cuba.”

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