B I L L INGS ( A P )
Montana pea and lentil growers have negotiated a $7.8 million sale to Cuba. Officials say the agreement announced this week will ship nearly 15,000 tons of crops from one of the fastestgrowing segments of Montana farming, and give the state a toehold in a difficult market. The sale was sparked by a late November trip to Cuba by eight Montana farmers and ranchers. The trip was made possible by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who negotiated the first-ever sale of Montana farm products five years ago, said Kim Murray o f t h e Monta n a Pu l s e Advisory Committee. D e c a d e s - o l d t r a d e restrict ions have created numerous roadblocks for American farmers wanting to sell goods to Cuba. U.S. foreign policy prohibits money from changing hands directly between the communist country and American businesses. To complete a deal, Cuba must deposit its payment in the bank of a third country, where U.S. businesspeople can get the cash while still honoring the trade ban. Business travel to Cuba, less than 100 miles off the Florida coast, is tightly regulated. "It's so close to us, it makes producers salivate," Murray told The Bil l ings Gazette. Pulse crops, the seeds of legumes used as food, are one of the fastest-growing areas in Montana agriculture, with planting of crops like chickpeas expanding as much as 40 percent in the past year. In jus t a few years, Montana has gone from a small player in the pulse crop market to a 25 percent stakeholder, Murray said. I n f o r m a t i o n f r o m : Billings Gazette, http://www. Billingsgazette.com.