The U.S. has not had diplomatic ties with Cuba since 1961, but the recent efforts by the Obama Administration to renew governmental relations with the Caribbean island nation have put Cuba-U.S. ties on the front burner. It’s front-page news, and the U.S. agriculture industry—especially in Florida—has taken notice.
Recently, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack was part of a USDA team that visited Cuba. In a USDA blog, Vilsack maintained that agriculture has long been the means by which two groups—such as the U.S. and Cuba—might utilize to “serve as a bridge to foster cooperation, understanding and the exchange of ideas.” Florida stands to benefit from such a bridge through expanding U.S. exports to Cuba and the synergy that solves shared problems such as pests and diseases, like citrus greening.
While U.S. government trips to Cuba are all over the news, the U.S. has had close agricultural ties with Cuba despite popular beliefs to the contrary. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (IFAS) has partnered with The University of Havana for decades. UF Ag economist William A. Messing, Jr. hosted a webinar this February about the state of Cuba’s agriculture. To sum it up, the U.S. has been Cuba’s greatest exporter of ag products for 11 of the last 12 years. Other countries have also exported large amounts of ag goods to Cuba. While Cuba may one day offer competition to Florida as an ag producer due to their similar climates, Cuba’s current haphazard ag industry means that Florida is likely positioned to supply many ag exports to Cuba.