Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.JPG _lowres

Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain

Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain is flying out of New Orleans on Tuesday morning as the head of a 94-member trade mission to Cuba.

The goal of the weeklong trip is to begin the agreements that will lead to Louisiana exporting rice, poultry and grains to the communist nation. President Barack Obama recently eased dealings with the country after a half-century of tense relations.

“It’s important that we get our boots on the ground,” Strain said Monday. “It is important we are there. It’s going to be a competitive environment.”

The mission includes officials from Louisiana export facilities, rice growers, shipping businesses and bankers. The state economic development department will be represented, and six state legislators are going.

The group will stay at the fabled Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which hosted numerous celebrities, heads of state and gangsters prior to the revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959. They will visit a farm and writer Ernest Hemingway’s house.

But mostly, the group will meet with Cuban trade officials to discuss the health and safety parameters of deals involving the import of foodstuffs, Strain said.

Strain expects up to $400 million in Louisiana trade with the island nation within a few years.

Cuba, for instance, currently gets most of its rice from the Far East. “We’re much closer and have a superior-quality product,” Strain said.

Strain said the mission also will lay the groundwork for a planned Oct. 2 visit by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The mission, which is traveling on a charter airplane because commercial flights are still forbidden, will return from Havana on Sunday.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter @MarkBallardCnb