Fresh California grapes have been shipped to Cuba for the last several years. Jim Howard of the California Table Grape Commission (CTGC), Fresno, Calif., says the industry shipped 17,404 19-pound boxes of table grapes to Cuba in 2010. USDA reported the export value at $439,000. That breaks down to about $1.33 per pound.

“The table grape industry as a whole is always happy to have more markets for our grapes,” said Howard, CTGC vice president. “The better the access to a market the better it is for the industry as a whole.”

An even larger customer for California table grapes last year in the Caribbean was the Dominican Republic located east of Cuba. The industry shipped 410,000 boxes of grapes. USDA reported the export value at $7.2 million, or about 94 cents per pound.

“The Cuba market is underdeveloped in comparison with the Dominican Republic,” Howard said. “Over time, it is feasible that exports to Cuba could grow to a comparable level. There is a lot of potential.”

California table grapes are sold in more than 50 countries.

In a CNAS economic impact report, Rosson says 2009 California-to-Cuba farm exports totaled a $9.5 million value. California farm products with major export potential for export include cotton, grains, fruit, dairy, poultry and processed foods.

Cuba is an important market for Texas farm products. CNAS estimates the value of Texas agricultural products exported to Cuba in 2008 at about $45 million. Major exported commodities included wheat, corn, animal feeds, poultry and cotton.

Rosson says potential exists for Cuba to import Texas rice, grain sorghum, beef and cattle, dairy products, planting seeds, horticultural products, and a variety of processed foods.

Texas ports play a key role in facilitating exports to Cuba. In 2010, $18 million in food and agricultural products moved to Cuba through Texas ports.

Oklahoma farm products sold to Cuba in 2009 totaled about $9.2 million; mostly frozen broilers and turkeys, wheat, animal feeds and pork.

CNAS pegs 2009 Louisiana farm export sales to Cuba at a whopping $240 million; Florida - $79 million; Virginia - $53 million; and Mississippi - $22 million.

Every $1 in U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba in 2009, CNAS reports, generated an additional $1.96 in business activity in the U.S. economy.   

Critical to increased farm trade with Cuba is the approval of more U.S. ports authorized for shipments. Feed stuffs are shipped from ports including Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas; and Los Angeles, Calif., through bulk cargo facilities.

Most other farm goods must be shipped from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale in containers by barge to Cuba.

“These extra transportation costs are a large disadvantage which hurts the price competitiveness of U.S. farm products,” Rosson said. “Hopefully other port systems will be approved to allow more direct shipping to Cuba to reduce costs.”

cblake@farmpress.com