Farm groups on Wednesday voiced support for the President's mid-morning announcement indicating the U.S. would soon support commerce and normalization of relations with Cuba.
Since 1961, Cuban commerce and travel has been off-limits to Americans, due to U.S. opposition of the country's Communist government.
President Obama on Wednesday, however, said the U.S. would soon re-establish relations with Cuba following the country's release of imprisoned aid worker Alan Gross and the understanding that continuing to isolate the nation has not improved America's objectives of promoting democracy.
Farm groups supported the move, suggesting it could advance export opportunities for agricultural goods like soy, wheat and corn.
Though the U.S. has allowed ag exports to Cuba since 2001, financing restrictions have limited the competition of U.S. products.
American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman cited the President's proposed changes to the United States' handling of banking and credit opportunities with Cuba as an opportunity to lower those export hurdles.
"The president's opening to Cuba promises to improve trade conditions by making it easier for Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural and food products," he said.
Cuba is also the largest wheat market in the Caribbean, with the potential to import at least 500,000 metric tons of wheat from the United States each year, according to U.S. wheat groups.
"U.S. wheat farmers are excited about the prospect of exporting more wheat to Cuba," says National Association of Wheat Growers President Paul Penner. "NAWG has long supported strengthened trade relations with Cuba and see this as a historic step in that direction."
U.S. Wheat Associates President Alan Tracy noted that the U.S. market share in Cuba could grow from its current level of zero to around 80-90%, as it is in other Caribbean nations.
The American Soybean Association said while its farmers are excited about expanded trade, there are benefits for Cuban nationals as well.
"While we have been able to sell our products in the country for decades, our Cuban customers were unable to secure the same financing and credit opportunities as other trade partners," ASA President Wade Cowan said. "The easing of these restrictions will make it easier for American soy to gain a foothold in the market, but more importantly, it will enable the Cuban people to purchase the products that they need and want as their market develops."
Despite the support from ag groups, the move also invited criticism. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said the change is likely to benefit the Castro regime, rather than the "long-suffering Cuban people."
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, said the move has potential to improve progress toward positive change in the country, but must be scrutinized.
In a statement, he said he would request a study from the International Trade Commission of the economic impact on the United States of current U.S. restrictions on exports of goods and services as well as travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens.
"This study will provide a foundation for reevaluating the current U.S. economic relationship with Cuba," he said. "At a time when so many Americans are just getting by, we also cannot ignore the trade opportunities currently denied to American farmers, manufacturers, and service providers."