U.S. Farmers Push for Easing Embargo on Cuba

At Alan Juliuson's farm in Hope, N.D., a town of 300, this year's crop is good. People will be eating at Hope's one restaurant more often, and going to the sports bar. Some might buy a new pickup from the dealer down the road in Finley. A good harvest, Juliuson explains, benefits the whole county.

Getting a good harvest is the reason Juliuson cares about Cuba. Right now, pinto beans, for example, are going for 17 cents a pound. If U.S. farmers could easily sell to Cuba, Juliuson says, the price would go up by more than a few cents.

"That translates to money in my pocket," Juliuson says, "And we've got to knock down some of these trade barriers to get there."

Reeling off the costs of farming, from paying for land, to fertilizer, seed and labor, Juliuson says that an extra nickel in the price of beans could help him retire someday.

John Berthold is a Cuba-trade skeptic. He's the marketing director of Walhalla Bean Co. in Grand Forks, N.D. Walhalla buys beans from farmers like Juliuson. During harvest, about 20 semis show up each day, carrying 50,000 pounds of beans per truck.

Berthold travels the world selling beans, and he says it's just not worth his while to think too much about Cuba. The best way to increase bean sales, Berthold says, is to convince more Americans to eat them. Then come the bean-loving markets of Europe. Berthold says U.S. beans are the best in the world, but they cost more than Chinese beans.

So Berthold wants to target markets that have money to spend on a higher-quality product. And Cuba is not one of those markets.

"I guess in Italy, they've got a more affluent lifestyle than in the video I've seen of Cuba," Berthold says. "I think Cuba's got a long way to go."

Agriculture economists who study the issue say they're not sure exactly what would happen if the U.S. trade embargo were lifted. Cubans import a lot of beans from Brazil, China and elsewhere. It's not clear how much of that market U.S. growers could take.

In fact, one economist says, the only way to find out how Cuba trade will help farmers is to see what happens when the trade embargo is lifted.

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