Cubans to buy potatoes from North Dakota
The Associated Press BISMARCK -- North Dakota will ship 100 tons of seed potatoes to Cuba, in time for farmers on the communist island to plant before the end of the year, the state's agriculture commissioner says. The deal, announced Monday, is ...
The Associated Press
BISMARCK -- North Dakota will ship 100 tons of seed potatoes to Cuba, in time for farmers on the communist island to plant before the end of the year, the state's agriculture commissioner says.
The deal, announced Monday, is the first time Cuba has bought U.S. seed potatoes, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said.
"It's a very small amount -- only about $15,000 worth -- but it is significant in testing the waters," Johnson said.
Two Cuban inspectors were in the state last week touring seed potato fields in the Red River Valley, in eastern North Dakota, Johnson said. The inspectors will return to North Dakota this fall when the potatoes are shipped out, he said.
The United States has a trade embargo with Cuba, but Congress passed a law in 2001 allowing cash sales of U.S. agricultural goods and medicine to Cuba.
Johnson said he has traveled to Cuba six times in the last six years to push North Dakota farm products. He said the sales of North Dakota peas and lentils to Cuba have totaled more than $30 million since 2001.
"Every single time I've been to Cuba they've asked about potatoes," Johnson said.
Johnson led an 18-member delegation this spring that included potato growers for the first time.
Cuban officials say the country imports as much as 40,000 tons of seed potatoes annually from Canada and Holland, but the country wants to find other sources.
"One flattering aspect of the whole thing is that they're shopping here," said Duane Maatz, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association. "Our reputation for quality seed is very good -- and that's been good for North Dakota."
Potatoes grown for seed are susceptible to disease if grown in warmer climates, Maatz said.
Shipping potato seed from North Dakota is cheaper than sources in Europe, he said.
"We have the freight advantage over Europe and better standards of quality for viruses than eastern Canada," Maatz said.
North Dakota has more than 180 potato growers but only about three dozen potato seed producers, Maatz said.
Growers in the state sold potato seed to Cuba through the 1940s, Maatz said.
"We do have some varieties that work well with their traditions and customs," Maatz said. "What we have here is what they want in their food supply."