Manhattan, Kansas – Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry,
recently held a hearing on opportunities and challenges for agriculture trade with Cuba. Fifth
generation wheat farmer Doug Keesling of Chase, Kansas, offered testimony of support.
Keesling was one of four Kansans that represented Kansas and the Kansas Department of
Agriculture on a four-day learning journey to Cuba. Other Kansans traveling to Cuba included Steve
Baccus, representing KDA; Nina Lilja, Associate Dean of International Agriculture Programs for the
College of Agriculture, and Jaret Moyer, representing the Kansas Livestock Association. They were a
part of a larger group sponsored by the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC).
Bringing an end to the decades-old embargo holds potential to provide access to a new market for
U.S. producers, including Kansas beef, wheat and farm equipment as well as other products.
“From what I could see, there is a lot of potential in Cuba. As a Kansas wheat farmer, that potential
was obvious every time a meal included bread. Cubans eat a lot of bread, and are the largest wheat
importer in the Caribbean, nearly 30 million bushels imported per year,” Keesling said. “That would
be over 10 percent of all the wheat grown in Kansas, going to this one island just a couple days sail
from U.S. ports.”
During the visit from March 1-4, representatives of USACC met with officials of the Cuban
government and learned about initiatives being undertaken in Cuba to boost food production. Today’s
Senate Agriculture hearing further strengthened the case and opportunities for Kansas Agriculture,
although noted that significant challenges exist as these markets are developed.
Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey said that growing opportunities for the Kansas
agriculture industry is one of the core missions for the agency and that Cuba is a market that
deserves consideration. “Kansas farmers and ranchers produce some of the best beef and pork in
the world and our wheat and feed grains are sought out around the globe. It makes sense that we
should be looking to add new trading partners.”
Steve Baccus participated in the trade mission on behalf of KDA. Baccus has traveled to Cuba on
several occasions and noted that this trip was considerably less monitored by the Cuban government
and the officials and farms they visited could freely answer questions.
“The changes that I saw this trip in the functioning of the economy and the way the government
carries out their affairs were simply outstanding,” Baccus said. “There is more freedom in Cuba and
the decision making process has moved closer to the people. There is also tremendous potential for
Kansas farm products.” Baccus last visit to Cuba was nine years ago.