Florida citrus farmer Dan Richey is worried about a Cuban fruit invasion.
“They have a better climate than us and the same growing season,” said Richey, who farms 4,000 acres of mostly grapefruit near Vero Beach. “They could become the low-cost competitor, right at our doorstep.”
While a diplomatic thaw is just beginning, President Barack Obama is seeking closer U.S. trade ties with Cuba, signaling an end to five decades of sanctions that left the country starved of cash and little changed since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. That’s clearing a path for more agricultural investment on a Caribbean island just 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Florida.
Cubans have been more buyers than competitors because they eat mostly imported food and already get grain from the Midwest. But expanded farming in the country poses a new threat for Florida, the top U.S. grower of sugar cane, oranges and fresh tomatoes. Cuba was once a major supplier of sugar, fruits and vegetables, and with land untouched by modern chemicals or genetically modified seed, it is drawing the attention of organic food producers.