Taking an historic and welcome step toward further normalization of grain trade between Cuba and the United States, Cuba’s food buying agency has committed to purchase half a million tons of U.S. wheat in the next calendar year.

Representatives from U.S. Wheat Associates, the industry’s export market development organization, traveled to Cuba on to meet with leadership of Alimport, the Cuban government’s official food importers.

Recognizing the quality of U.S. wheat and related products, as well as the performance of American wheat growers and processors, Alimport agreed to purchase 500,000 metric tons of wheat from American exporters in 2006.

The purchases are subject to competitive pricing, delivery and other applicable terms.

U.S. Wheat Associates, led by president Alan Tracy, has been a strong advocate for normal trade relations with Cuba. The Letter of Intent recognizes USW’s long-standing position, as the parties agree to “work together to help expand Cuba-United States bilateral commerce and lift the current U.S. restrictions that affect trade and travel with Cuba, a valuable market for U.S. food products.”

Wheat producers back in the states welcomed the news.

“Trade relations between Cuba and the U.S. wheat industry have been steadily progressing since Cuba’s first purchase in November 2001,” said former USW chairman Keith Kisling, an Oklahoma wheat farmer who has made several trips to Cuba to promote U.S. wheat. “This purchase commitment is a very important and greatly appreciated boost to U.S. wheat exports.

“Just as important, for the long-term, this document is a testament to the power of trade in establishing a human dialogue that can hopefully act as a counterpoint to some ill-advised political strategies still mired in the tired rhetoric and failed policies of yesteryear,” Kisling said.

The U.S. wheat industry has been working for the last decade to establish relations with Cuba. In coordination with member state wheat commissions, USW initially facilitated wheat flour donations in the mid-1990s through humanitarian groups working in Cuba. Following a series of meetings between USW and Cuban officials over a three-year period, Cuba was ready to purchase U.S. wheat in 2001.

Cuba has become the largest U.S. wheat customer in the Caribbean, purchasing 1.6 million metric tons of U.S. wheat since trade resumed. They primarily buy hard red winter wheat and in 2004-’05, only five other countries in the world purchased more HRW than Cuba. They have also purchased some hard red spring and durum.

USW was established in 1980 and represents farmers in 18 states who grow more than eight out of every 10 bushels of wheat produced in the United States.