Cuba trade promising, but farmers need help
22 hours ago • By Ralph Kaehler
The Kaehler family farm produces traditional crops, canning crops and
livestock. We are nationally recognized beef breeding stock producers
whose claims to fame include exporting the first livestock to Cuba in
2002 following the enactment of the trade embargo.
Our initial exposure to Cuba was as an exhibitor in the First U.S./Cuba
Food and Agriculture Exposition in 2002, through an invitation from
then-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. Of the over 180 exhibitors from 30
states, the Kaehler farm display was the only one with live animals —
affectionately known as the “Cuban Ark.” It consisted of two beef cows,
two dairy cows, two pigs, two sheep and two bison bottle calves. The
display was intended to exhibit the diversity of U.S. livestock
producers and to introduce Cuba to the typical USA farm family.
We returned home from that exposition motivated to do more. Since then,
the Kaehler family has led over 10 trade delegations to Cuba. These
missions have included producers from seven different states and a
bipartisan mix of state lawmakers and officials. . . .
Given the opportunity, U.S. farmers do well in Cuba. We have a
significant advantage of shorter shipping over Europe, South America,
Asia and other major exporters. In addition, Cuba can take advantage of
U.S. rail container service and sizing options, which also brings
significant benefits to smaller, privately owned businesses like ours.
On top of all this, the U.S. produces a wide variety of affordable and
safe food products that Cubans want to eat.
Unfortunately, some of the policies currently in place diminish the
natural advantages American agriculture enjoys over its competitors. For
instance, requirements for using third-country banks for financing adds
a lot of paperwork, time and personalities to every transaction. Coupled
with a restrictive cash-in-advance shipping policy — which I know the
President helped to improve in recent months — there is a very small
margin for error before a shipper faces fees. As a family operation
trying to build our business through exports, this self-inflicted
inefficiency can be tough to manage.
So, what do I hope to see change for U.S. farmers in the national Cuba
First, I hope farmers can work with Congress to improve the trade
financing rules for Cuba. The efficiencies gained by doing this would be
immediately beneficial. It would make shipping cheaper for producers and
food less expensive for Cubans, both of which can only be a good thing
for our trade relationship.
Second, I have to mention the importance of the USDA to agriculture
exporters. Some large companies may have plenty of resources without
this promotion and technical assistance, but small firms like ours do
not have the luxury of extra available cash or shareholder offsets. We
need marketing support and assistance to help support our companies and
figure out exactly what’s going on in markets abroad. . . .
Finally, I hope that Congress will expand the universe of people
involved in U.S.-Cuba trade by allowing a greater variety of goods and
services to be traded. I don’t know much about politics, but I have
spent a lot of time in Cuba and have built strong relationships with
farmers and their families.
The Kaehler farm has weathered many ups and downs in doing business with
Cuba, including a recession, high commodity prices, and difficult
financing rules. But, we’ve made progress over time and have never been
shortchanged by our customers. I can only imagine that having more
interactions like these — farmer to farmer — will help build a better
understanding between our two countries and improve quality of life on
Ralph Kaehler is a farmer from St. Charles, Minn. These comments are
from his testimony last month before a U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee
hearing on trade with Cuba.
Source: Cuba trade promising, but farmers need help –