Cuba can become a more important market for Iowa's agricultural commodities, say representatives of the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board who traveled to Cuba with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. They were in Cuba from October 1 to October 5.
"For the last decade, Iowa Corn and the Iowa Department of Agriculture have led a sustained effort to increase food and feed sales to Cuba," says Craig Floss, chief executive officer for ICGA and ICPB. "In the last marketing year, 95% of Cuba's corn imports came from the U.S. That is real progress, given the legal restrictions on U.S.-Cuba trade."
Cuba's corn purchases this year could be nearly 40 million bushels, but Floss is even more enthusiastic about Cuba's development as a market for distillers dried grains, or DDGs from Iowa's ethanol industry. "Distillers dried grains was unknown in Cuba before 2004. Our work to introduce its use is paying off. Last year, the Cubans bought about 100,000 metric tons, and this year that is expected to double."
Potential for higher value ag products, too
Delegation members said Cuba could also become a growing market for higher value agricultural exports like milk and meat if trade restrictions were eased.
The Iowa Corn Growers efforts to open and improve trade with Cuba began with a humanitarian food donation in 1998, followed by exchanges that brought key Cuban food officials to Iowa and took Iowa farmers and feed experts to Cuba. The most recent mission focused specifically on educating Cuban livestock feeders in the use of corn and DDG in dairy, swine and poultry production.
"The farmers in Cuba and the government officials in Cuba that we met with were interested in growing the Cuban dairy industry. They see distillers grains as a product that could help them do that," Northey says. "Distillers grains make a lot of sense for Cuba and could become a good market for Iowa ethanol plants."
IDALS and Iowa Corn look forward to building relationships made through this latest trade mission trip to Cuba, he says.
Cuban livestock producers need feed
U.S. trade restrictions on Cuba, which have been in place since Fidel Castro overthrew a pro-U.S. government and installed a Communist regime there 50 years ago, require Cubans to pay cash for all their purchases of U.S. food and ag products.
"Right now the U.S. will only allow agriculture commodities, medicine and health products to be sold to Cuba," says Bob Bowman, past president of the Iowa Corn Growers, who farms at DeWitt, Iowa. "The U.S. government won't allow any imports of Cuban products. Americans can't go to Cuba for travel or tourism. They can only go for trade missions or educational exchanges. These restrictions hurt Cuba's ability to earn dollars that could be spent on buying agricultural products such as U.S. corn and distillers grains."
Cuban livestock producers want to buy U.S. corn, distillers grain and protein feed, says Bowman. They can't grow much grain in Cuba. "The Cubans are trying to increase their dairy herd and milk production. But they need grain and protein to do that and they need dollars to be able to pay for the imported grain, DDGs and protein for feed," says Bowman.