FITHIAN — Vermilion County's Kevin Green will be one of 18 farmers heading to Cuba later this month as part of an Illinois Farm Bureau delegation.
"I've always wanted to go to Cuba," Green said Monday, noting he has already traveled to other Central American countries and can "get by" with his knowledge of Spanish.
"It's time to move on and have normal trade relations with Cuba," added Green, who farms between Fithian and Oakwood. "The U.S. already exports quite a bit to Cuba anyway."
With growing tourism, Cuba will need more "top-end foods" that it can't produce, Green said. The island nation will also need feed for livestock.
The Illinois Farm Bureau trip, slated for June 28 to July 2, is aimed at promoting the resumption of normal trading relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
While there, participants expect to meet with Cuba's food and agricultural import agency, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, port authorities in Havana and the U.S.-Cuban Interests Section.
They also hope to visit farmer's markets, cooperatives and vegetable, dairy and livestock farms.
Green said the delegation plans to fly from St. Louis to Miami on June 28, then take a charter flight to Havana, where they'll be briefed by the U.S.-Cuban Interests Section.
He said he was selected to go after applying for the opportunity, explaining why he wanted to go and outlining his expectations for the trip.
Green isn't serving on Illinois Farm Bureau committees this year, but is natural resources committee chairman for the Vermilion County Farm Bureau.
Accompanying the farmers on their trip to Cuba will be several Illinois Farm Bureau staff members, a representative of the Illinois Department of Agriculture and some media representatives.
In the past, the Illinois Farm Bureau has helped state farmers take part in exchanges with Cuba organized by the governor's office, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and other agricultural groups.
According to the Illinois Farm Bureau, agricultural imports are needed to help feed the Cuban population. In 2008, Cuba revealed that 80 percent of its food supply was imported.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, sugar drove Cuba's economy, and the nation got most of its food from the Soviet Union.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba's state-run farms broke into co-ops, and agricultural markets opened up.
In 2000, American laws were changed, allowing U.S. firms to sell food and medicine to Cuba as a humanitarian gesture.
Cuba stepped up its purchases from the U.S. after Hurricane Michelle in 2001 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, according to the Illinois Farm Bureau.
Today, Cuba's economy relies largely on nickel exports, money from tourism and money sent from relatives abroad. Canadians account for 35 percent to 40 percent of all visitors to Cuba, the Illinois Farm Bureau said.