HAVANA, CUBA (WAFB) - Louisiana leaders hope helping Cuba's struggling farming industry could one day serve as a big opportunity for the Bayou State.
Like so many across Cuba, the farmers at the Niceto Perez farm co-op just outside of Havana are facing a whole host of problems.
"We cannot increase the performance of the farm because we cannot an alternative to gather fertilizer that we need," said Omar Barroso Miranda, president of the cooperative.
They said supplies from the government-run companies often leave them coming up short. Instead, they have to rely on goods with high price tags from Europe to help grow crops.
"That costs us much more money to get the fertilizer we need right now," Miranda said.
Costly chemicals are one thing, but the list goes on.
Farms across the island often struggle technologically. At the Niceto Perez co-op, the equipment they use to grow rice is 30 years old.
Old equipment makes for hard work which can be unappealing to Cuba's well-education population. Attending college in Cuba is free.
"When you see they are plowing the fields with ox teams, it's pretty hard to have a student at the university that gets a Ph.D. that wants to go on to the farm," Commissioner Mike Strain of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
That means the number of farmers in Cuba could drop in the future. Already, Cuba imports about 80 percent of its food.
If the embargo is one day lifted, Louisiana leaders hope to help fill the void, exporting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of rice and soybeans to the island.
However, Louisiana leaders also want to change Cuba's farming trends through exports.
"We've also expressed a desire to grow more on your land and import less," Strain said.
Meeting with representatives from the Agrarian University of Havana Thursday, Strain said Louisiana's ag centers could work with Cuban schools to help advance farming techniques.
"The exchange of information is very important as we face the challenges ahead," Strain said.
That can happen before the embargo is lifted. Back at the farm, other changes may have to wait until economic relations between the U.S. and Cuba are restored.
"We can help, and I think it's overdue, and I think we're in a position to and we should," said William Kennedy with Kennedy Rice.
One day, advanced farming technology and fertilizer could pass through Louisiana ports to Cuba. And because Louisiana is far closer to Cuba compared to Europe, the shipping fees could also be much lower, driving down the cost Cubans have to pay.
"I think it's a lot of potential for us, and I think, in the process, we could help these people," Kennedy said.
The Louisiana delegation flew back to New Orleans Friday night. The governor held a press conference at the airport.