Total time from Mencer’s rice fields to Havana would be about a week – less than 1,000 miles down the Mississippi and across the Gulf of Mexico.
These days, however, Cuba’s rice generally comes from Vietnam – some 11,000 shipping miles, and six weeks, away.
“I’m 55 years old. This is my 34th rice crop,” Mencer said as he looked from atop the levee toward the Mississippi. “I keep hoping I’ll be able to sell some of it to Cuba before I retire.”
Right now, the chance of that happening is uncertain, despite the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba.
Per-capita rice consumption in Cuba is significantly higher than in the U.S. Cubans – at least a long time ago – liked American rice: The U.S. Department of Agriculture noted in a June report that “consumers in pre-revolutionary Cuba generally liked the taste, appearance and cooking qualities of U.S. rice varieties and were willing to pay a premium for them.”
One effort underway in Congress seeks to energize agriculture sales by easing the rules against the use of credit. It’s a tactic that has won the support of many farm-state lawmakers, including Republicans generally opposed to the president’s foreign policy.
In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson was once a congressman who supported the Cuban trade embargo. But later this month he’ll travel to Cuba, seeking business for his state. He thinks credit sales should be allowed.
“You get out in the farmland of America and they say, ‘What we’ve been doing for the last 50 years has not been effective. Let’s try something different,’” he said in an interview.