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Maine Potato Growers Look to Sell Potatoes to Cuba

Maine potato growers and dealers have just completed a second sales mission to Cuba, where they worked to further negotiations to sell 1,000 metric tons of seed potatoes and some tablestock potatoes for shipment in November.

The leader of the team, Joe Lallande, president and CEO of Maine Potato Growers, said the purpose of the trip was to build on progress made during the first visit by Maine growers to Cuba last December.

“We had a very productive trip and we are very encouraged by the potential this market represents for Maine potato growers,” Lallande said.

The team visited potato fields in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas and Cienfuegos, all major production areas, and met with officials of Alimport, the Cuban food import agency.

Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, has also been working closely on this export project.

“I am enthusiastic about this new potential market for Maine potatoes, and our board members have appropriated funding to support further development of this market,” Flannery said.

Maine currently is negotiating an initial sale to Cuba of 1,000 metric tons of seed and an unspecified quantity of tablestock potatoes for shipment in November. Lallande said the potential for future transactions is much greater. Cuba imports 30,000 to 36,000 metric tons of seed each year. Canada currently supplies two-thirds of that and European seed producers supply the balance.

“Maine has an outstanding reputation in the marketplace as a producer of quality seed, which provides us with the competitive advantage to leverage a larger share of the Cuban seed market going forward,” Lallande said.

The Maine team and Alimport also agreed on the next steps necessary to conclude a sale. A Cuban technical team plans to visit with the USDA in July to harmonize Cuba’s phytosanitary requirements with U.S. standards. At the same time, Cuba will send a team to visit Maine potato growers to observe crop production and inspect the sheds where the product will be packed for export to Cuba.

Seth Bradstreet, Jim Crane, Keith Labrie and Tom Qualey – representing Maine potato growers – and Joe Lallande of Maine Potato Growers and Todd Bradley of MFX made the trip to Cuba under the U.S. Treasury license of Doyle Marchant. Marchant is developing the market in Cuba exclusively for Maine producers and growers of agricultural products.

The 2004 delegation, led by Marchant, president of Cedar Spring Agricultural Co., and Maine Commissioner of Agriculture Robert Spear, also included representatives of the apple, dairy cattle and maple syrup industries in Maine.

Originally posted Tuesday, Mar. 15, 2005

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