Monday, October 31, 2005

More Vermont cows may be calling Cuba home

Article published Oct 31, 2005
More Vermont cows may be calling Cuba home

The Cuban government is expected to sign a deal this week to purchase
300 cows from the Northeast, including a sizable number of Vermont cows.

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Steve Kerr said Saturday that Cuba has
agreed to buy more cows from the state's dairy farmers — the second such
deal in the past year.

Kerr said Cuba is scheduled to sign a contract this week at Cuba's
annual trade fair in Havana. He said the deal to purchase the Vermont
cows is being brokered again by Florida businessman John Parke Wright IV.

"I think it's in the 100-plus range," Kerr said, referring to the number
of Vermont cows.

It was Wright who brokered the first sale of Vermont heifers to Cuba at
last year's trade fair. The 74 Holstein and Jersey heifers arrived in
Cuba in August and are considered of such high quality that Cuba will
use them for breeding.

Kerr said the new contract calls for Alimport, the Cuban agency
responsible for agricultural imports, to purchase Holsteins, Jerseys and
Brown Swiss heifers from Vermont dairy farmers.

He said he expects Cuban agricultural inspectors to visit Vermont early
next year to select the heifers.

Wright, who is licensed by the U.S. government to do business with Cuba,
negotiates a price with each farmer before turning around and selling
the cattle to the Cuban government.

Vermont farmers received an average of $2,100 a head for the cows that
made up the first shipment this summer. But Kerr said he's unsure what
farmers might get paid this time around.

"I don't have a clue," he said. "It's whatever the market will bear."

He hinted, however, that farmers may get less because "milk prices are
starting to soften."

Among the inaugural shipment of Vermont cows to Cuba were two cows from
the Putney School. "Little Debbie," a Jersey heifer that was a gift from
the school to the people of Cuba, recently had her first calf, a bull,
Kerr said.

He said both "Little Debbie" and a Holstein from the Putney School will
be displayed by Wright at the entrance to one of the pavilions at the
Havana Trade Fair that begins this week.

"The two cows are from Vermont and we're very proud and the Putney
School should be very proud," Kerr said.

Vermont's trading relationship with Cuba got its start with a 2004 visit
by Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie. That was followed by a visit by Kerr, who
attended last year's trade fair. Kerr also made a return visit in August
to coincide with the first shipment of heifers from the state.

Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., also paid a visit to Cuba this year at which
time the government of Fidel Castro agreed to purchase more food
products from the state.

No state officials are attending this week's trade fair. However,
Gerardo Quaassdorff of the Brattleboro-based Holstein Association USA is
expected to attend, according to Kerr.

In addition to cows, Cuba last year agreed to buy powdered milk and
4,000 bushels of Vermont apples. The apple deal has apparently been held
up over visas that the State Department has yet to issue to Cuban

Kerr said he's hopeful that visas finally will be issued to the Cuban
apple inspectors early next year.

Kerr expressed hope that tensions between Castro's communist regime and
the U.S. might have begun to ease. He said the fact that a team of U.S.
officials will visit Cuba to inspect the recent hurricane damage Cuba is
one positive sign.

"We should have a little sympathy for the Cubans," he said. "I hope this
helps the Bush folks to wake up and work with these people. These people
are our neighbors."

Food, agricultural products and medical supplies are the only items
exempt from the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. The embargo was put in place
shortly after Castro seized power in 1959 and installed a communist
system of government.

Contact Bruce Edwards at

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