March 5, 2015

March 5, 2015

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

I am just back from Cuba. I have been in Cuba on two other occasions in years past, and on this visit, I am more encouraged than ever that normal relations are on the way.

Just because President Obama has started the process doesn’t mean that it is done. We need legislation to lift the embargo on trade. We have been able to sell grain and food and medicine to Cuba over the years, but nothing else.

In 2008 under President Bush, our food exports hit one billion dollars. They have been in a steady decline since then with a low last year of $300M. Cuba imports 80% of their food costing $3 billion. They are importing rice from Viet Nam. That is ridiculous. We have tons of rice for sale and are only 90 miles away.

Financing is the next barrier that we need legislation to correct. Right now, according to law, Cuba must pay cash in advance for whatever they buy from us; no credit! They should be able to work this out with our export companies. Without getting into details – we need legislation to open the trade door -- both ways – we sell to them, they sell to us. If we could legally do it, we would buy their tobacco and rum. Can’t legally do it now. I was allowed to bring back $100 worth of cigars. I have so many friends that want a Cuban cigar – I didn’t know I had that many friends.

Here is a quick review of what I saw on this trip. Mike Espy (President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture) and I were with the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, which was made up of farm organizations, including the Farm Bureau, corn, soy beans, wheat, rice, and so on. Cargill Corporation provided a leading role in helping to organize this visit. We visited farms, tobacco, sugar, fruits, vegetables, dairy, beef. I saw some mother sows with 8 or 10 baby pigs that looked like my own on my farm. We met with Cuban government officials. We visited a cooperative farm. The farmer did not own the land. It was state-owned. He farmed about 30 acres of crops (mostly vegetables) and 20 acres for cattle grazing. They have to irrigate all of their crops and they don’t have the necessary pump and equipment to get the job done. Their tractors are at least 50 years old. In the country, on some farms, they are still using oxen to pull the plow.

Let me just conclude by saying that there are trade opportunities in Cuba. If we help them, they could become, over time, a good neighbor. They still need to reform their Socialist- Communist government. It has suffocated a country that has real possibilities.

Their citizens are very nice, friendly, educated, and they deserve a better future. It’s a win-win situation for both countries. It’s time to end the 50 wasted years of Cuba isolation.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on- line to Have a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block back from Cuba.