Cuban officials have agreed to purchase more than $8 million in agriculture products from Upper Midwest farmers, including 13,000 metric tons of special quality animal feed, 5,000 metric tons of powdered milk, 120 Holstein dairy heifers, 40 sheep and four bison from producers in Minnesota and other upper Midwestern states. The seeds of the deal were sewn by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura when he led a visit to Cuba last year.
"It's a huge new market for us," said Ralph Kaehler, a Minnesota farmer who has made several trips to Cuba. The package includes livestock from Kaehler's farm and a network of producers he knows from Minnesota and neighboring states. While the Ventura trip last year attracted a lot of media attention, subsequent visits to the island nation by farmers like Kaehler and representatives of the state's Department of Agriculture, yielded the latest agreement.
Though Cuba is under a longtime U.S.-imposed economic embargo, some restrictions have been eased in recent years. Cuba must pay for goods it imports in cash, however, as federal law still prohibits financing trade with the communist country. News reports indicate that the Cuban government is working to provide each child in the nation with a liter of milk a day.
Further trading with Cuba could produce $45.5 million in agricultural export sales for Minnesota alone, according to best-case scenario estimates from the state Department of Agriculture. The total economic benefit would be $92 million with the creation of 900 jobs.