Illinois Soybean Growers (ISG) continues to lead state and national efforts in opening up trade with Cuba. Last week, as part of ISG’s fifth business visit to Cuba since 2012, ISG Director of Strategic Market Development Mark Albertson, was a leader on a learning journey to Cuba organized by the U.S. Ag Coalition for Cuba (USACC).
“There was an obvious and remarkable excitement among Cubans in this recent visit that we did not see before,” said Albertson who was in Cuba March 1-4, 2015 and previously with ISG in November 2014. “Clearly the developments between our countries have given new hope to the everyday people of Cuba.”
The group of more than 95 people met with Cuban government and agriculture officials and visited aquaculture, crop and cattle operations. The goal was to learn more about the potential for U.S. and Illinois agriculture in Cuba. USACC leaders also emphasized the need to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
“There is a universal connection among people who grow food and care for the land,” Albertson said. “We were there to listen and learn. Cuba clearly has potential to supply the U.S. with various ag imports, all of which could be backhauls on our Midwest ag products, such as soybeans, that we ship to the island.”
Two Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) aquaculture researchers, Brian Small and Jesse Trushenski, both of whom have conducted research on feeding soy-based feeds to fish, joined Albertson in Cuba.
“We worked hard to identify the top aquaculture experts in Cuba and secure appointments with them,” Albertson said. “We were very pleased to involve key U.S. universities, such as SIUC, with those aquaculture visits.”
Other Illinois participants on the educational visit included former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture John Block, Illinois Cuba Working Group Executive Director Paul Johnson, Alison Jenson of Chicago Foods, Illinois farmer Thomas Marten, and U.S. Grains Council Chairman Ron Gray.
They joined USACC at meetings with key officials from Cuba’s food import agency, Alimport; Ministry of Agriculture; and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Director General for U.S. Affairs.
ISG has been working to increase soybean and ag exports to Cuba for several years. Efforts include visiting Cuba and meeting with top officials, along with educating Illinois legislative and business leaders about the economic value of trade with Cuba. Earlier this year, ISG thanked legislators who have supported both ending the embargo to Cuba and opening up travel restrictions.
Last week’s visit demonstrated for Illinois agricultural leaders how a meaningful relationship with the United States and Illinois could benefit the Cuban people and provide new opportunities to boost Cuba’s agricultural capacity.
In 2014, U.S. ag exports to Cuba were $287 million. In 2008, they were $700 million, with about half that value coming from corn and soybeans.
Illinois Soybean Growers (ISG) is a membership organization serving more than 45,000 Illinois soybean growers. ISG provides advocacy in Springfield and Washington, D.C., to promote the interests of soybean farmers, and research, promotion and education programs that enhance soybean production and use. For more information, visit the website www.ilsoygrowers.org.
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