Monday, June 20, 2005

Cows for Cuba

I guess I need to brush up on my U.S.-Cuba policy, as an article that appeared the last Friday in the Portland Press Herald surprised me with the breadth of trade being "freely" planned with Cuba.
Cuban delegation in search of heifers at Maine farms
By CLARKE CANFIELD, Associated Press

Maine cattle farmers will be showing off their herds when a contingent of Cuban officials visits a dozen farms in the coming four days in search of heifers to bring back to the Caribbean nation.

The delegation is scheduled to visit farms in southern, central and coastal Maine in a trip that begins today and continues through Monday.

The trade mission will provide Cuba with much-needed cows, while giving Maine farmers new markets for their cattle. The Cuban officials are also scheduled to meet with Maine potato and apple growers to discuss deals to buy those products later this year.

"There's a big demand for heifers in Cuba, and a lot of farmers are willing to get involved because down the road it could lead to future sales," said Maine Agriculture Commissioner Robert Spear.

The Cuban delegation includes government officials who specialize in imports, agriculture and veterinary medicine. They have already toured dairy farms in Pennsylvania and Vermont in hopes of buying several hundred heifers, young cows that have not yet borne a calf.

Officials said the cows have been selling for around $1,900 each.

For farmers such as Steve Keene at the family owned Conant Farm in Canton, a Cuban market for cattle helps diversify the farm and protect it in times of depressed milk prices. Keene said the Cubans are buying cows that are three to five months pregnant that will be shipped to Cuba, where they will later give birth.

"This will help us down the road because supply and demand will keep the prices at a good level for us," Keene said.

The trade agreement for Maine cattle is part of a bigger plan to sell other products to Cuba as well. On Sunday, the Cuban officials are scheduled to meet with apple and potato growers, said Doyle Marchant, owner of Cedar Spring Agricultural Co. in North Yarmouth, who organized trips of Maine delegations to visit Cuba in December and again in April.

"They need dairy products. The Cuban people, being in excess of 11.6 million people, are a protein-deficient society," Marchant said. "They don't have enough of anything as it relates to food, as it relates to pharmaceuticals and so forth." Food, agricultural products and medical supplies are the only items exempt from the 43-year-old U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.

Marchant said Cuban officials have signed contracts to buy apples and dairy products, and letters of intent for potatoes and lumber. Expanded trade will benefit both Maine and Cuba, he said.

"I'd rather see potatoes going to Cuba than see for-sale signs going up in front of potato farms," he said.
It's worth noting that Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Mexicans and other Latin Americans work in the lumber and apple industries (many illegally).

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