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Michigan farm industry eyes possible sales to Cuba


Michigan’s agriculture industry may benefit from an opening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Earlier this month, President Obama announced the U.S. wouldreestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba.The decision is a step in the direction that may end with the lifting of a trade embargo with Cuba.  

There are still many steps before the embargo is lifted.  But people are already planning for that day.   

Cuba imports two-thirds of its food.

“A lot of our commodity groups and markets see that their production is growing and are searching out for these export markets, which is why Cuba is so interesting.” says Jamie Zmitko-Somers, the state of Michigan’s international marketing program manager.

She says Michigan’s dry beans and apple producers could market to Cuba, though probably not anytime soon.

Bob Boehm is the manager of Michigan Farm Bureau's Commodity and Marketing Department.  

He says there are still obstacles that may prevent Michigan farmers from selling to Cuba. One of the biggest, Boehm believes, is the Cuban government, which he says is resistant to some of the open market changes that will be needed. 

“So I think it’s an opportunity for us and there’s certainly interest,” Boehm says, “but we have to be cautious.”

Boehm says agriculture leaders hope to meet with Cuban officials this spring in Michigan.  

Senator Debbie Stabenow is the outgoing chair of the U.S. Senate Agriculture committee. She visited Cuba in 2013. She’s excited about the potential of opening the Cuba market.

“This is something that will be very positive for our state particularly,” says Stabenow.  

The U.S. is already exporting $300 to $400 million a year in a variety of products.   

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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