Published online: Sep 03, 2008 Alan Harman
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North Dakota growers could soon be sending seed potatoes to Cuba after the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved sanitary and phytosanitary rules to ensure shipments are disease- and insect-free.

The rules have been forwarded to the Cuban government for its consideration.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson tells reporters growers are looking to gather enough seed to fill a container for the first shipment since the U.S. established a trade embargo with Cuba in 1962.

A law passed by Congress in 2001 allows cash sales of U.S. agricultural goods to Cuba.

"This is a major step," Johnson says. "What we're trying to come up with is a small quantity for them to do trials with."

He says he hopes the shipment can be on its way by fall.

Cuba imports some 40,000 tons of seed potatoes each year from Canada and The Netherlands.

"One thing they want is supply diversity," Johnson said. "Our state has a really strong reputation for producing disease-free potatoes."