Farm Groups Pleased with Cuban Checkoff Decision

The Agriculture Department’s announcement that commodity checkoff funds can be used to help market U.S. farm products in Cuba lets America’s farmers invest directly in the growth in trade between the two nations, according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall.

“American-grown foods hold a clear competitive advantage in the Cuban marketplace, and the use of farmer- and rancher-generated funds to promote and market U.S. farm goods fits the checkoff mission perfectly,” Duvall said.

AFBF and other farm groups have been working closely with USDA in hopes of lifting the prohibition against using agricultural checkoff funds in Cuba.

“This announcement by USDA represents a major boost in growing the Cuban market that sits just 90 miles off our coast,” Duvall said. “I want to personally thank USDA and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack for the support shown America’s farmers and ranchers in this matter.”

Checkoff funds are raised through a direct assessment on farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses and are not taken from U.S. treasury funds. As such, Duvall said it is appropriate that the many farmers and ranchers who pay into the assessment and pay for the oversight of the program by USDA be allowed to see those funds invested in the development of the Cuban market.

Expanded marketplace
American Soybean Association (ASA) President Richard Wilkins, a soybean farmer from Greenwood, Del., also welcomed the checkoff announcement. 

ASA is in favor of lifting the embargo on Cuba, and has been supportive of the Obama Administration’s efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people.

In a statement, Wilkins pointed to the commonsense approach taken by USDA in lifting the restrictions on spending checkoff dollars in Cuba:

“Today’s announcement is a big step forward in terms of expanding the Cuban marketplace for U.S. soy. The important thing to remember about checkoff funds is that they’re farmer dollars–they belong to producers to do with as best they see fit to grow their industries.

“Because this is the farmers’ money, it’s only logical that we as farmers ought to be able to use it to expand whatever markets we see as the most promising for our individual commodities.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen Cuba–an emerging economy just 90 miles from our shore with a growing demand for meat protein–as a source of potential growth for U.S. soy, but Cuba is a market in dire need of attention. We have lost market share there year over year for both whole beans and soybean meal, and we’ve lost the oil market entirely to our South American competition.

“This is a byproduct of the embargo and our resulting inability to truly give that market the attention it deserves. That’s why ASA as the policy organization of the soybean family maintains a policy position in favor of removing the Cuban embargo entirely.

“Hand-in-hand with that effort is the ability to use soybean farmer money through the United Soybean Board and our international marketing arm at the U.S. Soybean Export Council to explore what opportunities exist for us in the Cuban marketplace.”

Source: American Farm Bureau, American Soybean Association

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