At a press conference held Wednesday in association with the 2016 Commodity Classic, farm leaders representing producers of crops including corn and sorghum called for removal of trade barriers with Cuba so U.S. producers can capture sales there and in the region.
The event, sponsored by the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, was a pitch at one of the nation’s largest farm shows to “allow agriculture to be the engine that helps us down this road toward reconciliation,” as Coalition Co-Chair Paul Johnson said in his opening remarks.
U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Tom Sleight spoke at the event, offering figures to show how drastically U.S. grain farmers have been affected by remaining Cuba trade restrictions.
In marketing year 2015, just $4 million of $160 million worth of corn sold to Cuba was sourced from the United States. An estimated $240 million of additional business was lost by U.S. farmers with Cuba’s neighbors because once sales to the island nation are on the books, South American competitors can find efficiencies delivering to others in the region.
Sleight said that trade has the opportunity to bridge political and financial divides between Cuba and the United States, with this time of challenging farm prices offering opportunities to redevelop relationships with Cuban leaders and meet this competition.
“I’ve seen it time and again – trade creates relationships between two countries. Trade fills that basic need,” he said. “It’s time for us to address this.”
USGC activities in Cuba, which are entirely funded by state checkoff organizations, would work to both promote near-term sales and pave the way for long-term demand growth. Sleight said the strongest market development needs in Cuba right now are education on grain handling and storage and production technology in livestock.
Wayne Cleveland, executive director of the Texas Sorghum Producers, also spoke at the conference, outlining work his industry has done to help Cubans learn to feed sorghum.
He said education like what the Grains Council provides, starting with how to create compound feed efficiently, is a first step in building feed and livestock markets that can support the nutritional needs of the Cuban people and meet demand from consumers who come to the country as tourists.
“It’s time we move on, do away with trade barriers and open up the market,” he said.