LAKE VILLAGE, Ark. From the edge of his rice fields in southeastern Arkansas, Joe Mencer can climb a levee and lay eyes on a small Mississippi River port that loads up grain for a trip to New Orleans. From there, it could be on its way toward Cuba.
Total time from Mencer's rice fields to Havana would be about a week less than 1,000 miles down the Mississippi and across the Gulf of Mexico.
These days, however, Cuba's rice generally comes from Vietnam some 11,000 shipping miles, and six weeks, away.
"I'm 55 years old. This is my 34th rice crop," Mencer said as he looked from atop the levee toward the Mississippi. "I keep hoping I'll be...