Johnson named new NFU president
DTN Ag Policy Editor
ARLINGTON, VA (DTN) – Delegates at the National Farmers Union annual convention Tuesday selected Roger Johnson, North Dakota’s commissioner of agriculture, to be the NFU’s new president.
Johnson replaces Tom Buis, who announced earlier this month he was leaving NFU next week to become chief executive officer for Growth Energy, a new lobbying group for the biofuels industry.
Johnson said he will emphasize working on the policies adopted by NFU’s grassroots members and take those policy positions to Capitol Hill. Johnson will be president for one year and up for re-election next year. Buis was in the middle of a two-year term.
“This organization is, in my judgment, the leading voice that will be heard on Capitol Hill with the administration and Congress for family farms,” Johnson said as he accepted the nomination.
Farmers Union members laid out several key priorities for Johnson and staff in 2009, which include opposing some initiatives from President Barack Obama’s administration, despite the group’s close ties to the Democratic Party. NFU members voted to oppose the administration’s budget proposal to eliminate direct payments for farmers who have more than $500,000 in gross sales. That proposal in the fiscal-year 2010 budget has been widely criticized by even some staunch advocates for tighter payments and income eligibility. Overall, the NFU opposes reopening the 2008 farm bill.
NFU members also are going to push aggressively for reforms in the dairy industry and its pricing mechanisms. NFU members want USDA to release Milk Income Loss Contract payments early, as well as increase the level of those payments to dairy farmers who have suffered a significant price collapse since late last year. NFU also wants USDA to issue low-interest loans for dairy producers, eliminate forward-contracting for dairies and establish a dairy price-support system based on the total cost of production. Johnson said the dairy industry “is probably struggling more than any other sector” of agriculture right now.
In energy, the NFU membership wants to see Congress establish federal incentives for local ownership of renewable-energy facilities, expand the ethanol blend level above 10 percent, and create a permanent expansion of renewable energy production tax credits.
The 56-year-old Johnson is a third-generation farmer from Turtle Lake, N.D., and is the state’s agriculture commissioner. He was chairman of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture in 2007 and worked aggressively in that role on several issues in the farm bill. Most notably, Johnson pushed hard for Congress to include a provision allowing state-inspected meat to be shipped and sold across state lines. Johnson argued that it made no sense for the federal government to allow more than 40 countries to send meat into the U.S. but not allow state-inspected facilities that meet the same guidelines as federally inspected plants to have the same opportunity.
In a stump speech Sunday night, Johnson told the NFU membership that everyone in the U.S. has a role to play in the future of agriculture. Johnson said Tuesday it is important to tie agriculture and food production back to consumers.
“The future of agriculture isn’t just going to be defined by the 2 percent of us who produce the food and the fiber and the fuel … it will be defined by everyone who touches agriculture and frankly there is no one who doesn’t touch agriculture if they eat,” Johnson said.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Johnson worked to help farmers renegotiate finance terms with banks as a mediator for the North Dakota Agricultural Mediation Service. In 1996, Johnson ran for his first term as the state’s agriculture commissioner. He has been re-elected three times to the office since then.
Johnson said he will return to North Dakota this week and focus on wrapping up some projects before he resigns his post. He said he hoped to be working at the NFU office before the end of March.
Johnson defeated Larry Breech, president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union. Breech had told delegates that NFU needs to focus more on boosting membership and he had promised to take a $100,000 pay cut if elected to the office.
Chris Clayton can be reached at email@example.com