Arkansas is the largest producer of rice in America
Chuck Wilson is with the USA Rice Federation
Before the revolution Cuba was the largest consumer of U.S. rice.
Triple digit heat shines down on the fields of the Arkansas Delta. It's a condition that rice thrives under. And Arkansas rice growers are hoping for favorable conditions to help their business thrive.
"They typically purchase around 600,000 metric tons on a mill basis. That's a lot of rice," says Chuck Wilson, who is with the USA Rice Federation.
Several of their merchant members are in Havana, Cuba talking with Cuba's import agency and the Ministries of Foreign Trade, and Agriculture. The hope is to convince Cuba to buy American rice.
Wilson says, "The Cuban people really like the U.S. rice. They like the quality. They like the taste. They like the cleanliness of it, everything that we have to offer, they like. It's just the situation, the politics and the economics that's causing a difficulty in that."
Arkansas is America's largest producer of rice, harvesting more than 40 percent of the annual crop. Before the revolution, Cuba was America's largest consumer of rice. And Arkansas growers would like to see that happen again.
Cuba buys most of their rice from Vietnam. U.S. trade restrictions put in place more than 50 years ago make it difficult for them to buy U.S. products. The rice federation would like to see those old restrictions lifted.
Wilson explains, "If they buy it from the U.S. they would have to go through a bank in a third country. They can't even use U.S. banks. So there's a lot of little factors there that we place restrictions on them that we do not other countries that really is impacting our ability to trade with them."
Motors struggle in the summer heat to keep the rice fields irrigated and alive. And if the delegation is successful, Arkansas rice could soon flow into a country once considered so far away -- even though it's only 90 miles from our coast.
H.R. 4645, a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives would eliminate the need for Cuba to use third country banks and advance cash payments for U.S. agricultural products -- and lift travel restriction for U.S. citizens to that country.