The U.S. will open an embassy in Havana — so said President Barack Obama Tuesday, a significant step showing that efforts to normalize relations with Cuba are ticking along. However, the embargo still stands, and only Congress can lift it. Should that happen, many U.S. exporters will stand to benefit, including American rice farmers.
Ray Stoesser grows about 4,000 to 5,000 acres of rice on his Texas farm and would very much like to see some of it head to Cuba.
“We as farmers, we analyze what the market is, what people want to buy, and we grow it,” he says. “Right now, we don’t have enough buyers, and that’s why the rice price slipped so much.”
Rice prices have dropped significantly this year, but Stoesser thinks if the U.S. could sell to Cuba, the increased demand would help prices recover. Cuba was a major importer of rice before the embargo.
But Louisiana grower Fred Zaunbrecher says margins are so slim right now, growers aren’t investing in new equipment or planning for new potential customers.
“We really can’t bank on it, or grow a crop on it or make financial decisions on it until it’s actually opened and our markets are responding to that demand,” says Zaunbrecher.
However, should Congress decide to lift the embargo, the rice industry will be ready, says Terry Harris with Riceland Foods, a large rice miller and marketer.
“We have the abilities, we have the infrastructure,” he says. “We could ship rice to [Cuba] starting next week.”