Minnesota farmer advocates for trade with Cuba - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Minnesota farmer advocates for trade with Cuba

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St. Charles, MN (WXOW) - Ralph Kaehler didn't train to be a diplomat. He raises cattle outside of St. Charles, MN. And yet, the fourth generation Minnesota farmer may be one of the biggest advocates for improved relations with Cuba.

"US farmers do feed the world," said Kaehler.

He really began doing his part to help feed the world in the late 90s.

"When Gov. Ventura had a trade mission to China, we were selected to be an international representative for agriculture."

It was on that trip, Kaehler said, the former governor suggested a possible mission to Cuba. Kaehler didn't think much would come of it, until he got a call from the Ventura administration asking if he still wanted to go.

"We said, if there's an opportunity for agriculture, we're interested."

What he found in the Caribbean nation is opportunity aplenty.

Kaehler said, "There's a lot of land, but they don't have the technology or capital we have in the US."

Kaehler first approached working with Cuba taking what he calls a neutral stance--neither for nor against the current policy restricting trade. But, after talking with farmers there, seeing their challenges and even meeting then president Fidel Castro, Kaehler came back with a different outlook.

"The embargo needs to end," he said. "It's just hurting the Cuban people. It's not about whether you like the government or not."

That's why the Minnesota farmer said he's encouraged by President Obama's new stance toward the communist country.

"In Cuba, we're ending a policy long past it's expiration date," said the President during last month's State of the Union address.

In his speech, the president called on Congress to end the restriction on trade with Cuba, saying it would close a half-century of mistrust--a mistrust still shared by his opponents in the Republican controlled House and Senate, as well as the 88-year-old former Cuban leader.

However, in a statement dated January 26th, Fidel Castro hinted that he too would be open to talks writing, "We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries." To Kaehler, this shows it's only a matter of time before improved relations with one of America's closest neighbors.

"Cuba will be in our top 20 trading partners."

That prediction, according to Kaehler, wouldn't necessarily provide a long-term benefit for his business either. He said his business, K-LER Cattle Co., would not be able to risk the amount of capital to compete with larger operations. But Kaehler said he'll gladly risk that to protect his interests at home.

"If we're doing trade with them and our people understand them, the better we understand each other, the less hassles we're going to have, and the safer it is for my kids and grand-kids."

It's a view Kaehler said stems from lessons in history, to help preserve his Midwest roots for generations to come.

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