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President Obama’s Cuba visit represents possibilities for Illinois farmers

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As President Obama prepares to make an historic visit to Cuba, it represents a new course in relations with the island nation.

This will be the first visit with a sitting U.S. President in nearly 90 years.

It could eventually add more business for Illinois farmers.

Farmers already see cash in corn from places like Taylor Ridge, Illinois.

One day, it could also be exporting ethanol to Cuba.

"It's huge," said Tara Bohnert.

She grew up part of a first-generation dairy farm family in East Moline.

"For corn exports, it could be one of our top 10 or 11 countries that we export to," she continued.  "That means a lot to Illinois farmers."

The White House delegation includes Rep. Cheri Bustos and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Among other things, it will discuss agricultural collaborations with Cuba.

That includes everything from exports to climate change.

Still, the long-term trade embargo is the biggest obstacle for doing business with Cuba.

That's because the Cubans can't use credit.

"That hinders it," she said.  "It makes the entire process harder on both ends."

At the Women in Agriculture Conference on Friday, economist Cory Winstead is keeping his feet on the ground.

While Cuba imports nearly all its food, it will take longer to attract big players like a John Deere.

"The financial condition, that's the reason why they can't secure credit," he said.  "It's going to take a lot of time and a lot of trust to build this on a cash basis."

Winstead warns that big changes won't happen overnight.

Despite thawing tension, it's an uphill battle.

Still, the prospects offer potential.

It could eventually pump $120 million into Illinois each year.

That sounds good to Tara Bohnert.

"Right now, especially in terms of low grain prices, our ability to export and the cost of exporting to a country like Cuba is so minimal," she said.

Down the road, helping Illinois farmers with more cash for the corn.


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