Fifteen thousand tons of Montana peas and lentils are headed to Cuba. The $7.8 million sale, negotiated after a trade mission last fall by eight farmers and ranchers, gives state legume growers a toehold in a problematic but promising market.
In 2000 Congress relaxed a long-standing embargo on trade with Cuba, opening the door to food and agricultural products. Montana's shipment is a fraction of the 122,000 tons of peas and lentils that Cuba imports annually, and the state is playing catch-up to North Dakota, which has sold over $26 million worth of legumes, or pulse crops, to Cuba since 2002.
But the deal gives Montana growers hope that Cuba will become a steady customer for their peas, lentils and beans. Supply is not likely to be an issue; once a minor producer of legumes, the state today accounts for one-quarter of the U.S. pulse-crop market.