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Illinois leads trade bandwagon to Cuba

Illinois leads trade bandwagon to Cuba
Karen Binder, Field Editor
Saturday, April 02, 2016 5:00 PM

ST. LOUIS — March 21 is a historic day in Fairmont farmer Lynn
Rohrscheib’s mind.

This was the day that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Cuban
Minister of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez signed a memo of understanding
to clear the way for unrestricted trade to Cuba. Hours later, Vilsack
announced that self-assessed fees collected by national commodity
checkoffs from American farmers can be used for research and education
in Cuba.

“This is huge for us as a nation and in Illinois,” Rohrscheib said.

She is a board member for the American Soybean Association and vice
chair of the Illinois Soybean Growers.

“I understand there are concerns from older generations with Cuba,” she
said. “For me, personally, I see this as a great opportunity for us to
help a country that’s isolated themselves so much from the rest of the
world. This is our opportunity now to help them to thrive, to prosper
and to advance.”

Rohrscheib pointed out that Cubans still are using oxen teams pulling
flat-bottom plows and that the U.S. can help them learn better
technology, build roads and improve their diets. Cuba also imports 80
percent of its food, presenting an equal opportunity for Cuba to gain
U.S. agricultural products and U.S. agriculture to gain new markets.

Rohrscheib also represents growers in the Illinois Cuba Working Group,
which traveled to Cuba as recently as last October on a fact-finding
mission. Also represented in the working group are other checkoff
commodities, including the Illinois Corn Growers Association, Illinois
Pork Producers, Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Milk Producers
Association and the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois.

The working group was the first state to travel to Cuba during the
embargo in 1999, and ISG alone has visited seven times since 2012.

“One thing we learned when we were there is that many Cubans are looking
forward to lifting of the embargo,” Rohrscheib said.

Checkoff Uses

Vilsack elaborated on how checkoff funds may be used as he arrived back
in the U.S. His first stop was Illinois.

He visited first with students about the future of agriculture at
Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and then traveled on to
Chicago to address the Good Food Conference.

Some of the allowed checkoff uses include:

* Nutritional research and guidance.

* Plate-to-waste studies to identify cultural likes and dislikes in
Cuban schools.

* Educational, environmental and consumer issues relating to such
matters as transportation of goods, transferring farm technology and
restaurant education on cooking with soy oil.

* Impact of commodity nutrition on chronic illnesses.

* Water sanitation and land stewardship improvements.

* Testing food recipes across the spectrum of population demographics.

* Understanding Cuban consumer buying behaviors.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees 23 national checkoff
commodities. Commodity farmers pay a portion of their sale proceeds into
a checkoff program. The checkoff then uses the money for research,
marketing and promoting its commodities locally and globally.

Although the U.S. is allowed to export ag products to Cuba, with
Illinois exporting the most soybeans, credit policies and the embargo
have caused the U.S. to lose market share. It is estimated that at least
20 percent of Cuba’s U.S. corn and soy imports originate from Illinois
due to the state’s leading production of those crops, sustainable
production and reliable delivery.

“The other big reason,” Vilsack said in Carbondale, “is that only 90
miles separates us.”

Learning Journey

Mark Albertson is strategic market development director for the Illinois
Soybean Growers and is a member of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for
Cuba. He said all farmers and producers of any commodity can help build
the new relationship.

One upcoming opportunity is the coalition’s Learning Journey in late
May. Although the travel date is hard on farmers, Albertson said, “We
would like to help facilitate farmer-to-farmer relationships between
both countries. We have gained a lot of experience over the years, and
we are getting better about navigating our way through Cuba and all
their rules. In particular, we would like to reach out to the Cuban
livestock and fish and shrimp farmers who could benefit from feeding
more soy.”

Likewise, the coalition would like to invite Cuban farmers and soybean
buyers to the United States.

Another step that farmers and producers can take is to talk to their
legislators about supporting Cuban initiatives.

“We need farmers around the nation to put pressure on the Senate and
House leadership to allow the legislation to get a vote,” Albertson said.

Source: Illinois leads trade bandwagon to Cuba – AgriNews –

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