WASHINGTON, March 9, 2015 – Devry Boughner Vorwerk, the Cargill executive who’s leading a coalition of commodity groups and agribusinesses in a campaign to end the Cuban embargo, says Brazil and other U.S. rivals are “eating our lunch” when it comes to investing in trade with the island nation.

Boughner Vorwerk, the chair of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USAAC), led an ag-related delegation of nearly 100 members last week on what she called a “learning journey” to Cuba and reported impressive evidence of Brazil’s investments. From upgrades to sugar mills, to the modernization of the port of Mariel, to new harvesters in sugar cane fields, Brazil’s footprint was apparent, she said.

“It’s only a matter of time before the U.S. ends the embargo,” Boughner Vorwerk said on a conference call with reporters to discuss the visit. “For the moment they have the first mover advantage, and we’re standing on the sidelines.”

During the trip, the group received briefing from government officials in charge of agriculture, finance, and imports and met with representatives of farmer groups. On a second day members broke up into five “excursions” to visit different enterprises, including aquaculture production in the Bay of Pigs supported by the Norwegian government, and cattle, rice, sugar tobacco farming operations.

In some fields, she said, growers were using modern harvesters whereas in others they were using ox carts.

“Certainly the Cuban farmers need access to the technology, the inputs, the capital and other services, pretty much access to what a modern agriculture industry could provide.”

[Watching to see what happens now that the relationship between the U.S. and Canada has changed? Watch Agri-Pulse for our reports on its impact on agriculture and trade. Sign up for a four-week free trial subscription so you don’t miss out.] 

Boughner Vorwerk agreed that Cuba was not a “major market,” but she said it is a “modest” one -- with 11 million consumers just off the Florida coast that “we should have access to.”

After a reporter noted that every Republican presidential aspirant at last weekend’s agricultural forum in Des Moines came out against ending the embargo, Boughner Vorwerk acknowledged that USAAC will have a difficult time persuading some politicians to change the law.

“You’re talking about unraveling 54 years of policy,” she said. Still, she said, the group left Cuba “inspired to make 2015 our year.”