I'm Off to Explore Cuban Agriculture

Prairie Gleanings

The Illinois Farm Bureau is traveling to Cuba in an attempt to restore ag exports to their former glory.

Published on: June 27, 2012

I’m very close to being a full-fledged digital/social media addict. I check e-mail, Facebook and Twitter combined about 100 times a day.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I’ll be “detoxing” over the next five days. I’m travelling with the Illinois Farm Bureau to Cuba. Smartphones and the like will not work in this country. In many ways, it will be like turning back the clock to 1999. Either I’ll enjoy it, or I’ll suffer massive withdrawal headaches.

So, why are we going to Cuba? As anyone who’s taken a U.S. history course knows, the U.S. hasn’t had the best of relationships with this little island that’s only 90 miles south of Miami since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

During the Clinton administration, the U.S. put a policy in place that allowed Cuba to purchase ag products and medicine from us, but they had to pay before the ship was unloaded in Havana. The Cubans soon began a practice where U.S. freighters would dock a few miles off the coast while they lined up the finances in order to pay for the goods. Once the check cleared, the freighter would dock and unload.

Some Congressman (exactly who, no one seems to remember) said this practice could be misconstrued as extending a line of credit to Cuba. Thus, the new policy was Cuba must pay for the goods before they left the U.S. port. As a result, Cuba began importing many of its ag products from Brazil. Though it’s over 1,000 miles away, they were willing to give the Cuban government a line of credit. Not to mention, the two countries have partnered on a number of capital improvement ventures in Cuba.

Easing export regulations to Cuba would have a significant benefit for U.S. ag, and especially export-savvy states such as Illinois. One estimate put the potential benefit for Illinois at $10.9 million in ag exports, with 47 new jobs created in the process.

It should be an exciting trip, almost like a little time warp. Folks have reported that nearly half of Cuba’s automobile fleet is composed of 1950s-era Detroit offerings. A child of the 1980s, I’ve only come across this era of autos in car shows. I can’t wait to see them doing what they were originally intended for: get people from point A to point B, every day.

I’ll try to blog from the hotel in Havana. But, I’m not making any promises. I hear certain parts of Cuban infrastructure are notorious for frequently being under repair. I will take a lot of photos and notes. I look forward to sharing the experience in upcoming issues of Prairie Farmer and on my blog.

Oh, and if you were hoping for a Cuban cigar, sorry. I’m afraid those are not allowed back in the country.