Representatives of American wheat and rice growers on April 21 urged the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to pursue the lifting of statutory restrictions on trade with Cuba.

Doug Keesling, a farmer and a Kansas Wheat commissioner from Chase, Kansas, told the committee he recently visited Cuba as a member of a nearly 100-strong trade delegation from the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC).

“We had the opportunity to hear from Cuban government officials and speak with Cuban farmers,” Keesling said. “We are certainly interested in selling our products to Cuba, but we were also there to learn and to help break down the wall that has separated the people of our two countries for so long.”

Keesling pointed out that when restrictions on U.S. agriculture trade with Cuba were loosened in 2000 (under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, or T.S.R.A.), for the first time in 40 years, U.S. wheat was exported to Cuba.

“We were excited that there would be an opportunity to reestablish Cuba as a consistent wheat market for American farmers,” he said. “For a while, it looked like that might happen, as wheat exports slowly grew through the decade until they peaked at 18 million bus in 2008 (Cuba imported from all origins a total of around 32 million bus in that year). During that time, almost all the imported wheat was hard red winter, just like the wheat I grow on my farm in Kansas.

“But it was not to be. Exports tanked over the next couple of years, and we haven’t exported anything since 2010. There are a number of reasons for this, but economics is not one of them. In the rest of the Caribbean region, the market share for U.S. wheat is more than 80%. Cuban ports are literally the closest non-Mexican ports to wheat export terminals in the Gulf. There is no domestic production of wheat in Cuba that could compete with ours, and there are no tariffs in place on imported wheat.”