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Virginia Department of Agriculture Joins Over 60 Groups to Support Farm Bill Cuba Provision

~ The amendment would allow U.S. farmers to expand agricultural exports to Cuba by removing restrictions on private financing ~

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services joined a bipartisan group of over 60 agriculture associations, businesses, and elected officials across 17 states in urging House and Senate Agriculture Committees to include a provision in the 2018 farm bill that the Congressional Budget Office determined would save $690 million over 10 years. The suggested amendment, adapted from the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R. 525), would expand agricultural trade with Cuba by removing restrictions on private financing for U.S. food exports. The letter also urges lawmakers to preserve a Senate provision that allows farmers to use federal market promotion funds in Cuba. 

"We urge you to support American agriculture by advancing legislation that will make Cuba a viable market for our products,” the groups said. “Net farm income in 2018 has hit a 12-year low, falling further than during the Great Recession of last decade. This economic strain is felt by everyone in the industry, particularly the thousands of small, family-owned farms in the American heartland. Given this year’s 6.7 percent market decline, we cannot overstate the importance of trade and opening new international markets.” 

According to Cuba Trade Magazine, Virginia's exports to Cuba could reach $63 million per year if trade restrictions were lifted. Many of Virginia’s top agricultural products, such as soybeans, corn, and poultry, are staple imports for Cuba. Currently, U.S. sales of agricultural products to Cuba are limited to cash transactions, causing Cuba to primarily turn to Europe, Latin America, and Asia for nearly $2 billion per year in agricultural imports. Cuba imports roughly 80% of its food and has a population of 11 million, plus an influx of 3-5 million tourists annually. U.S. agriculture groups want to reclaim some of that market share.

“Our current Cuba trade financing laws deny our farmers access to a market valued at over $1 billion per year. I appreciate Senator Boozman and Senator Heitkamp’s work to include Cuba Agricultural trade language in the Senate version of the Farm Bill and I look forward to working to replace the current cash-for-crop requirements,” said Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR-1), the lead sponsor of the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act and a participant in the farm bill conference committee.

“Today farm country is filled with uncertainty. Passing a Farm Bill is paramount, but in doing so we must look ahead and support mutually beneficial economic opportunities, like those in Cuba,” said Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS-1), a cosponsor of H.R. 525. “While we are renegotiating our trade deals, we have a $2 billion market untouched right under our nose.”

“Our farmers don't want handouts. They know if they can compete with the rest of the world they can win,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. “There is no reason why the Cuban people shouldn’t be eating American rice and dairy instead of importing it from Vietnam and New Zealand."

The Senate’s version of the farm bill already includes an amendment by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) which would allow U.S. agricultural producers to spend U.S. Department of Agriculture market promotion funds on marketing to Cuba. 

“The United States has just five percent of the world’s population, which means 95 percent of consumers live outside our borders. If we aren’t constantly working to open markets and reach new customers, American farmers and workers won’t be competitive on the global stage. That’s why it’s so important for U.S. farmers and ranchers to gain access to markets like Cuba, where there is demand for American agricultural products,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

“My bipartisan amendment would give USDA the ability to build reliable trade partnerships between U.S. producers and Cuban buyers, strengthening our ag economy and finally removing outdated barriers to selling our products to consumers in a nation that sits just off our coastline. It would also help boost North Dakota’s farmers during a time of serious uncertainty from the administration’s trade policies,” she said. 

To become law, both provisions must be approved by the bicameral conference committee, which convened officially for the first time on Wednesday.

More information on Cuba's agriculture import market and federal legislation is available here. Find the full text of the letter here and below.

Dear Chairmen Roberts and Conaway and Ranking Members Stabenow and Peterson,

Thank you for the progress you have made toward passing the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.

On behalf of the undersigned businesses and associations, we applaud the Senate’s inclusion of Senator Heitkamp’s amendment to allow farmers the ability to use USDA market promotion dollars in Cuba. We urge you to support American agriculture by advancing legislation that will make Cuba a viable market for our products.

Net farm income in 2018 has hit a 12-year low, falling further than during the Great Recession of last decade. This economic strain is felt by everyone in the industry, particularly the thousands of small, family-owned farms in the American heartland. Given this year’s 6.7 percent market decline, we cannot overstate the importance of trade and opening new international markets.

Your support in removing outdated financing barriers on agricultural sales to our island neighbor could significantly strengthen an industry that supports 17 million jobs across the United States, while providing the Cuban people with high-quality, American-grown food. Cuba imports nearly 80 percent of its food to feed a population of 11 million people and upwards of 3 million tourists annually. This requires about $1.8 billion in annual agriculture imports, the majority of which come from the European Union, Latin America, and Vietnam. Hardworking U.S. farmers can and should be Cuba’s number one supplier of commodities like rice, poultry, dairy, soy, wheat, and corn.

Senator Heitkamp’s amendment is part of the Agricultural Export Expansion Act/Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (S.275/HR.525) which would allow U.S. farmers to expand agricultural exports to Cuba by removing restrictions on private financing on food exports to the island. We also support this larger legislative effort, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would save $690 million over 10 years.

It is imperative that U.S. agribusiness find ways to offset recent losses caused by falling domestic demand, higher prices, and uncertainty in formerly reliable trade relationships. As a broad cross-section of rural America, we urge you to help American farmers and our associated industries by preserving Senator Heitkamp’s amendment in the Agricultural Improvement Act.

We thank you for your hard work and for the progress that both chambers have made in this legislative session, and we look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to sign this legislation into law.

Sincerely the undersigned organizations,

Hon. Gerald Dial, Alabama Senate (AL)
Grey Redditt, President, Society Mobile-La Habana (AL)
Agricultural Council of Arkansas (AR)
Independent Professional Seed Association (AR)
Bradley Mannis, Mannco Fertilizer (AR)
Producers Rice Mill, Inc (AR)
Mark Isbell, Rice Farmer (AR)
Winrock International (AR)
Maria Garcia Berry, CRL Associates (CO)
Elaine Berman, Metro State University of Denver (CO)
Oswald Family Ranch on Rush Creek (CO)
Stephen Berman, University of Colorado School of Medicine and Colorado School of Public Health (CO)
Center for Democracy in the Americas (DC)
Engage Cuba (DC)
Latin America Working Group (LAWG) (DC)
Washington Office on Latin America (DC)
Cuba Educational Travel (FL)
Jorge Pedraza, LSB Industries (FL)
Iowa Corn Growers Association (IA)
Dimy Doresca, University of Iowa (IA)
Hon. Matt Erpelding, Assistant Minority Leader, Idaho House of Representatives (ID)
Brian Linin, Former Chairman, Kansas Wheat Commission (KS)
KC SmartPort (KS)
Kansas Soybean Association (KS)
Jonathan Blue, Blue Equity (KY)
Catholic Charities of Louisville, Inc. (KY)
Kentucky Poultry Association (KY)
At the Threshold, LTD (LA)
Kevin Berken, Chairman, Louisiana Rice Promotion Council (LA)
Cuba Trade and Travel (LA)
Haynie & Associates (LA)
International Cuba Society (LA)
Kennedy Rice (LA)
CHS Inc. (MN)
Minnesota Grain and Feed Association (MN)
Mississippi Poultry Association (MS)
Rio Grande Foundation (NM)
Vicki Huddleston, U.S. Ambassador, Retired (NM)
Hon. Scott Schertzer, Mayor, City of Marion (OH)
Ohio Corn & Wheat (OH)
Toledo Sister Cities International (OH)
Judy Wojanis, Chippy LLC (PA)
Hon. Michael Diven, Former Member, Pennsylvania House of Representatives (PA)
Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry (PA)
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PA)
Donna Oberlander, Pennsylvania House of Representatives (PA)
Pamela A. DeLissio, Pennsylvania House of Representatives (PA)
Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce (PA)
Deno De Ciantis, Pittsburgh-Matanzas Sister Cities Partnership (PA)
Hon. Jim Ferlo, Pittsburgh-Matanzas Sister Cities Partnership (PA)
Lisa Valenti, Pittsburgh-Matanzas Sister Cities Partnership (PA)
Ronald Jardini, Pittsburgh-Matanzas Sister Cities Partnership (PA)
Hon. Joe Scarnati, President Pro Tempore, Pennsylvania Senate (PA)
Hon. Stacy Widelitz, Vice-Mayor, City of Oak Hill (TN)
City of Houston (TX)
Texas Poultry Association (TX)
Texas Rice Producers Legislative Group (TX)
The Chevalier Law Firm (TX)
Glaize Apples (VA)
Van Wood, Virginia Commonwealth University (VA)
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VA)

Southside Virginia Community College Donates Bikes to Lawrenceville

Southside Virginia Community College(SVCC) recently donated some bicycles to the Lawrenceville Police Department(LPD) for use in their patrols.  The college used the bikes for awhile but saw a need at a local department and decided to donate them.  LPD Chief Everett Gibson said his department has three officers, plus himself,  certified through the International Police Mountain Bike Association to patrol with bikes and others will train as well.  The bikes will be used to patrol events and throughout the town.  The college also donated a Firearms Training Simulator to the Emporia Police Department.  Shown at the donation are(Left to Right) LPD Assistant Chief J.T. Stith, Chief Everette Gibson and Dr. Alfonzo Seward, SVCC Administration of Justice Associate Professor. 

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