North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson intends to run for president of the National Farmers Union after the sudden resignation of former NFU president Tom Buis last week, who resigned mid-term to accept a position with a company to promote the ethanol biofuels industry.
Johnson made the announcement at a press conference Tuesday. The election will be next Tuesday at the NFU's annual convention, which will be held in Washington, D.C.
Liz Friedlander, spokeswoman for NFU, said the decision to hold an election for a mid-term position was to give delegates the opportunity to have a say in the process.
AP Photo •
North Dakota agriculture commissioner Roger Johnson, left, and state Farmers Union president Robert Carlson meet Tuesday in Bismarck to look over a list of names for Johnson to call to seek support in his quest to be national president of the Farmers Union. Johnson announced his intention to seek the national office at a press conference in the state capitol in Bismarck on Tuesday morning.
If elected, Johnson would take office immediately, leaving a void in his term as state ag commissioner. To finish the remainder of the four-year term, Johnson has voiced support for Jeff Weispfenning, deputy commissioner. Gov. John Hoeven would make the final decision.
"I will certainly give Jeff consideration but would give others the opportunity of consideration as well," Hoeven said.
Hoeven learned of Johnson's intention last week. "I wish him the best in that effort and believe he would do good work for North Dakota farmers and ranchers as well as the state," the governor added.
Johnson, who has been elected ag commissioner four times, said the decision to run was difficult.
"It is not a position I sought, but at the end of the day, my beliefs are so closely aligned with the association that I decided last night to accept this challenge," Johnson said, adding that he believed he would have a better chance to favorably affect agricultural policy as head of the national organization.
"In North Dakota, two things are always talked about by ranchers: the weather, which we have no control, and government policy," Johnson said. "Government policy is the one thing we should have a say in."
Although there are other candidates running for the position, Robert Carlson, president of North Dakota Farmers Union, said a vast majority of state Farmers Union presidents have vowed early support for Johnson, especially from the Plains and Rocky Mountain regions where a majority of the membership lies.
With the rapid changes and challenges that face agriculture and the greater U.S. economy, Carlson said there is a need for strong leadership on the national level.
"Johnson is one of the best kept secrets in agriculture," Carlson said. "He is not afraid to stand up and fight."
If elected, Johnson said his first priority as NFU's president would be to ensure the implementation of the 2008 Farm Bill as it was passed by Congress last June, thwarting changes such as President Barack Obama's budget proposal to phase out direct farm subsidy payments. Disaster assistance and country of origin labeling are also important issues to be addressed.
"These issues are important, but none more so than the (financial) safety net for farmers," Johnson said.