Potato Wars 

After all that fuss over Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's trip to Cuba this spring, it looks like we might get the rug yanked out from under us by some wily North Dakotans.

Roger Johnson, the commissioner for agriculture for North Dakota, told BW his state has a verbal agreement to sell North Dakota seed potatoes to Cuba. Sneaky!

"We have a verbal agreement to work on a process," Johnson said.

In the next two months, Johnson said, his state will be making sure its potato production processes work to the satisfaction of the Cubans.

To that end, they'll be bringing in two Cuban agricultural inspectors to have a look at their fields and products, to be sure they're free of diseases and pests.

If all goes well, he said, they'll sell 100 tons of seed potatoes this fall to Cuba.

"As much as we can," Johnson said. "That is something that one would hope to ramp up over time."

Johnson wasn't ready to put a dollar value on the possible export.

Johnson was on a trip to Cuba May 21-24 with a North Dakota delegation.

That's not all. According to Johnson's agency, the Cuban government is expected to sign an agreement to purchase 10,000 tons of North Dakota hard spring wheat.

"Negotiations are ongoing for the Cubans to buy North Dakota soybeans, corn and dried distillers grains, as well as soybean oil, soybean meal, barley malt and peas, lentils and beans," Johnson said.

The agreements came out of meetings with Pedro Alvarez, the president and CEO of Alimport, the Cuban food buying agency.

In addition to meeting with Alvarez, Johnson and the North Dakota delegation also had what Johnson said were "productive meetings" with leading officials of the Cuban ministries of foreign affairs and foreign trade.

Which would sort of put a damper on similar statements made by Otter, when he was discussing his trip to Cuba with local news reporters.

Of course, the governor's office isn't ready to admit defeat just yet. "Just because they're buying it from North Dakota, it doesn't preclude us from selling to them in the short term, or in the future," said Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary.

Hanian said state officials are still hoping to work out deals to sell other commodities to the communist nation—among those are peas and lentils. "We remain hopeful we will ink some deals with them," he said. "But when you reach this stage of discussions, it is very competitive."

Otter was busy touting another agriculture deal signed with a foreign nation, this time Taiwan. Last week, Otter announced Taiwan Flour Mills Association agreed to buy more wheat from Idaho growers. The deal boosts U.S. wheat exports to $425 million.

Wheat may be Idaho's second-largest crop, but lest we forget the mighty potato, Hanian said the possibility of selling Idaho's signature crop to Cuba isn't dead.

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