U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently made checkoff funds available for market expansion in Cuba.
The announcement is a great step forward according to Richard Wilkins, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA), which favors lifting the Cuban embargo and normalizing relations between the American and Cuban people.
“Today’s announcement is a big step forward in terms of expanding the Cuban marketplace for U.S. soy,” Wilkins said. “The important thing to remember about checkoff funds is that they’re farmer dollars – they belong to producers to do with as best they see fit to grow their industries. Because this is the farmers’ money, it’s only logical that we as farmers ought to be able to use it to expand whatever markets we see as the most promising for our individual commodities.”
Cuba’s economy needs help, but it is emerging as the demand for meat protein increases, which would be beneficial for animal feed growers in the U.S. Because of the embargo, the ASA and soy farmers have not been able to promote ethanol fuel in Cuba.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen Cuba – an emerging economy just 90 miles from our shore with a growing demand for meat protein – as a source of potential growth for U.S. soy, but Cuba is a market in dire need of attention,” Wilkins said. “We have lost market share there year over year for both whole beans and soybean meal, and we’ve lost the oil market entirely to our South American competition. This is a byproduct of the embargo and our resulting inability to truly give that market the attention it deserves."
Wilkins said that is why the ASA favors removing the Cuban embargo entirely.
"Hand-in-hand with that effort is the ability to use soybean farmer money through the United Soybean Board and our international marketing arm at the U.S. Soybean Export Council to explore what opportunities exist for us in the Cuban marketplace,” he said.