MINNEAPOLIS—Cuban officials are ordering corn byproducts from Minnesota in an effort to get more milk out of their cows.
That’s right. The country ordered 14,300 tons of corn byproducts from Minnesota ethanol plants this week to use as high-quality cattle feed after a feeding trial showed the byproducts increased the milk output of their cows.
U.S. companies are in Cuba this week for an international trade show.
The byproducts, known as distiller’s grain, and livestock sales represent more than $8 million in new exports to Cuba from farmers in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. Those deals could trigger at least $45 million more in farm exports to Cuba from Minnesota in the next several years, said Craig Damstrom, an international-trade consultant with the state Agriculture Department.
Damstrom; Ralph Kaehler, a cattleman and entrepreneur from St. Charles and his family returned Wednesday from a two-week visit to Cuba, where they met with President Fidel Castro and other officials to follow up earlier missions.
The men went to Cuba in 2002, a year after Congress relaxed the 42-year-old economic embargo and permitted cash-only food sales to the nation of 11 million. Last year, Cuba bought $138 million worth of food from the United States, mostly in bulk commodities such as corn, wheat, rice and soy products that were marketed by giant agribusinesses such as Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc.
U.S. food sales to Cuba are expected to top $166 million this year and $200 million next year.
“Castro and other Cuban officials are impressed with the quality of our farm products and our willingness to work with them to deliver the products they need to feed their citizens,” Damstrom said Thursday.
In addition to the distiller’s grain, Kaehler arranged the sale of 120 Holstein heifers, 40 sheep and four bison raised by his family and other Midwest farmers. He and his brothers own Kaehler’s Homedale Farms. In September 2002 and last July, they shipped about 150 head of livestock, mostly cattle and bison, to Cuba.
Kaehler also convinced Cubans to sign an agreement for the purchase of 5,500 tons of powdered milk from Minnesota farmers. That sale, however, is contingent on Cuba qualifying for a subsidy program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cuba currently imports most of its powdered milk.