Cuban delegation purchases cows in Vermont

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(Host) A delegation from Cuba is visiting Vermont this week as part of an agreement to purchase $6 million worth of Vermont agricultural products, including cows, apples and powdered milk.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The state signed the agreement with Cuba last fall. Agricultural products are exempt from the long-standing trade embargo imposed by the U.S. against the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. Vermont Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr says implementing the agreement has been a long and sometimes frustrating process because of the politics and government red-tape involved, including difficulties securing visas for Cuban officials to visit Vermont.

On a day when Vermont’s weather was nearly identical to Havana’s, state and Cuban officials gathered at a farm run by the Putney School.

(Tatiana Taboada) “On behalf of the Cuban people I want to thank the Putney School for this gesture….”

(Zind) The school is making a gift of three heifers to the Cuban government. Under the agreement, Cuba is also purchasing 97 cows from a number of Vermont farms. The state estimates the farmers selling the animals will receive nearly $200,000.

Tatiana Taboada is with the Cuban government agency coordinating the sale. Taboada says her country is trying to rebuild its dairy industry after the collapse of Soviet Union which was Cuba’s main trading partner.

(Taboada) “What we’re trying to do right now is import animals with high genetics in order to start again. Little by little we’ll start developing again and increasing again the animals we have in Cuba to try to improve out herd.”

(Zind) Cuba is also purchasing cows from Maine, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Taboada says the largest dairy farms in Cuba have about 300 animals.

The major part of the agreement calls for Cuba to purchase four million dollars worth of powdered milk primarily from the Agri-Mark and St. Albans dairy cooperatives. Taboada says Cuba currently imports the bulk of its milk in powdered form.

(Taboada) “Right now Cuba buys a lot of milk powder. In order to be able to provide to every kid until seven years old a bottle a day. This is a product which is highly subsidized. Our ultimate goal is to be self-sufficient in milk.”

(Zind) Vermont Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr says despite delays in implementing the deal he expects Cuba will have received all of the cows, powdered milk and Vermont apples the agreement calls for by the end of the year. And Kerr says when Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords recently returned from talks with Cuban officials he brought assurances that they will continue to buy Vermont agricultural products.

(Kerr) “So when we get this one done, we’re going to get right down to discussions right off the bat and talk about what comes next.”

(Zind) Kerr says he hopes to be on board the ship that takes the Vermont cows to Cuba later this summer.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Putney.

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