By TOM LUTEY
Of The Gazette Staff
Montana pea and lentil growers have negotiated a $7.8 million sale to Cuba.
The deal announced this week will move nearly 15,000 tons of crops from
one of the fastest-growing segments of Montana farming. More important,
the agreement gives the state a toehold in one of the most difficult
markets for American businesses.
Decades-old trade restrictions with the communist country have made
selling goods there nearly impossible for American farmers. U.S. foreign
policy prohibits money from changing hands directly between Cuba and
To complete a deal, Cuba must deposit its payment in the bank of a third
country, where U.S. businesses can then take the cash while still
honoring the trade ban. Business travel to Cuba, less than 100 miles off
the Florida coast, is tightly regulated. Yet Montana pea growers have
coveted the Cuban market.
"It's so close to us, it makes producers salivate," said Kim Murray, of
the Montana Pulse Advisory Committee. Peas, lentils and legumes are
known as pulse crops.
Montana's 15,000 tons is a fraction of the 122,000 tons of peas and
lentils Cuba buys annually. Canada, which has no trade restrictions with
Cuba, fills the American void.
A taste of Montana
The sale was sparked by a late-November trip to Cuba by eight Montana
farmers and ranchers. Murray said the trip was made possible by Sen. Max
Baucus, D-Mont., who negotiated a first-ever sale of Montana farm
products five years ago.
Arranged sales of Montana farm products to Cuba now exceed $30 million.
Pea and lentil growers have been gearing up for the world trade trips.
The organization began raising money through fees less than two years
ago so it could pay for marketing and scientific research.
Pulse crops, the seeds of legumes used as food, are one of the
fastest-growing areas in Montana agriculture, with planting of crops
like chickpeas expanding as much as 40 percent in the past year.
In a few short years, Murray said, Montana has gone from a small player
in the pulse crop market to a 25 percent stakeholder.
Published on Friday, January 25, 2008.
Last modified on 1/25/2008 at 12:59 am