Texas Plant Protection Conference features discussions on export trade to Cuba

Writer: Blair Fannin, 979-845-2259, b-fannin@tamu.edu

BRYAN – Both big challenges and opportunities await Texas agriculture.

This was the message for Texas agricultural business leaders and representatives at the 2012 Texas Plant Protection Association Conference in Bryan recently.

Dr. Doug Steele, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service director, told attendees, “We will always face challenges and we need to work together, whether it’s fighting pest diseases or natural disasters.

“It’s important for associations and conferences like this where we come together to be forward thinking to meet those challenges.”

Dr. Parr Rosson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension economist and head of the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University, discussed business trade opportunities with Cuba during the Texas Plant Protection Association Conference in Bryan. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Blair Fannin)

Dr. Parr Rosson, AgriLife Extension economist and head of the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University, discussed business trade opportunities with Cuba, a country that relies on imports for 75 percent of its food.“Cuba is now a top 35 market for U.S. exports,” he said.

Agricultural exports to Cuba could reach $450 million for 2012,  he said. That would fall short of the more than $700 million exported to Cuba in 2008, when hurricanes hampered the island nation and increased the population’s need for imported food and other items, he said.

The 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act allowed food, medicine and some chemicals into Cuba. However, an embargo remains in place for most trade, he said. Also banned are imports from Cuba, including Cuban cigars.

With more than 11 million people, food consumption outpaces production, Rosson said. There are markets for food, milk, grain and meat. Tourism is a big economic driver in Cuba as well, he said. U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba include corn, poultry, soy and soy products, feeds, pork and wheat. There is also the potential for increased exports of higher quality cuts of beef, which currently are limited for use in the Cuban tourist industry.

Texas supplies Cuba with several export items, including chicken leg quarters, corn and wheat.

Also at the meeting, Ken Hodges, associate legislative director with Texas Farm Bureau in Waco, gave an update on potential farm bill legislation. He said lawmakers have many hurdles to clear in setting a new federal budget that could have new or extended farm legislation tied to it.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty in D.C.,” he said.

The U.S. Senate has proposed $23.1 billion in cuts to federal farm programs over the next 10 years, while the U.S. House version offers $35.1billion in savings.

“The question is, with Congress so dysfunctional, can they address anything before Christmas break?” he said.

Overall, Hodges told attendees not to give up on the current form of government and to remind elected officials to uphold what is in place.

“The (political) process is still good, we just need to hold our elected officials accountable,” he said.

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