Cuban inspectors coming to check out potato fields
The Associated Press BISMARCK -- Cuban inspectors are coming to look at seed potato fields in the Red River Valley. North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, through a spokeswoman, confirmed the visit but said he could not provide deta...
The Associated Press
BISMARCK -- Cuban inspectors are coming to look at seed potato fields in the Red River Valley.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, through a spokeswoman, confirmed the visit but said he could not provide details under conditions of the inspectors' visas.
M. Marie Martin, a trade director with the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Monday.
Duane Maatz, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, said the two Cuban inspectors were to arrive Tuesday and stay in the region until Friday, touring fields in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota and possibly an ethanol plant in the region.
"I think it will be the start of building some relationships," he said. "The point of this trip is to look at the growing crop. They may very well return in October" during harvest.
Cuba announced in May that it would send experts to North Dakota this summer as the communist island closes in on a deal to buy about 100 tons of seed potatoes. It would be the first time Cuba has bought U.S. seed potatoes, Maatz said.
Pedro Alvarez, head of Cub's food import company Alimport, said in May that Cuba imports as much as 40,000 tons of seed potatoes annually from Canada and Holland but that Cuba wanted to diversify.
Cuban officials said then that they hoped to have potatoes from North Dakota planted on the island when the growing season starts in November.
A U.S. embargo prevents most trade between the United States and Cuba, but direct sale of food and agricultural products began in late 2001. Maatz said Cuba would not be a large market for seed potatoes, "but it would be a very specific market, with specific needs."
Cuban farmers prefer "single drop" seeds -- planting whole potatoes in the soil -- while American producers plant chunks of potatoes.
For Cuba's needs, "we're talking like a two-ounce whole (seed) potato," Maatz said.
He said the Red River Valley has about three dozen seed potato growers.