Acadiana Rice Farmers Set Eyes on Cuban Market

KATC - ABC

By: Breanna Molloy

Fewer restrictions on the Cuba embargo mean more export opportunities for Acadiana farmers, and more exports mean more money in their pockets.

Mark Pousson is a rice producer in Welsh and the chairman of the South Louisiana Rail Facility, a coalition that represents 160 rice farmers across Acadiana.

"Right now times are tough for rice farming," said Pousson.

Selling to Cuba, he believes, is an opportunity to bounce back. Before the embargo, Louisiana was one of Cuba's most important trading partners. It's a relationship he hopes to build again.

"This would be a big shot in the arm," said Pousson. "On the scale from 1-10 this would be a 10 plus. It would have a big impact on the rice industry... much needed."

Pousson believes that Louisiana's proximity to Cuba will make them natural trading partners. Cuba is currently importing rice from Vietnam, a trip that takes over 30 days by boat. Rice shipped from Louisiana would arrive in two days.

"They would get higher quality rice," said Pousson, " Healthier. Safer."

Pousson hopes that exporting to Cuba will bring an economic boost to struggling farmers. Cuba imports nearly 80% of its food, and three of its largest imports are among Louisiana's largest exports -- soybeans, rice, and poultry.

In June, Pousson is travelling to Cuba with Engage Cuba, a coalition of private businesses working to end the embargo. The purpose of the trip is to build business relationships in Cuba and to position Louisiana as Cuba's major exporter. Pousson doesn't know if the deals will work out, but he knows his reasons for doing it.

"Surviving, for my family and for the boys to continue farming... it ensures that."

California, Florida, and Arkansas are among the other states vying for trade deals.