Retiring Farmers Union president: Family farms still viable

  • In US
  • 2019-12-15 15:30:11Z
  • By Associated Press
Farmers Union President Retirement
Farmers Union President Retirement  

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - As Roger Johnson prepares to step down after 11 years leading the National Farmers Union group, he's well aware of the many challenges facing its members: a painful trade war, the effects of climate change and the march of farm consolidation. But Johnson, a North Dakota native, believes smaller operators can still find a way to carve out a living.

Here's a look at Johnson's thoughts on agriculture and the future of farming:


Johnson, 66, has led the Washington, D.C- based farm group since 2009. He announced last week he is stepping down when his current term ends next year.

For more than a dozen years before heading the group, Johnson, a Democrat, was North Dakota's agriculture commissioner, where election campaigns in the conservative state mostly centered around who was more of a farmer than his or her opponent.

Johnson usually won handily. He is a third-generation family farmer from Turtle Lake who raised cattle and wheat, oats, barley, flax and sunflowers before selling the farm about four years ago to a nephew.


Federal moves in the last couple of years on tariffs between the U.S. and China have been "disastrous" and have created turmoil in rural America, Johnson said.

"In my view, this administration has literally destroyed our reputation around the world, and I say that with a great deal of consideration," Johnson said.

"I think China is a lost market for agriculture - there's just too much damage done there," he said.

"When we put these tariffs in place it shut down soybeans overnight," Johnson said. "Soybean farmers took a huge bloodbath and elevators in North Dakota refused to buy soybeans at any price."

China, America's top agriculture trading partner, increasingly has turned to South America and Europe for farm commodities, he said.

"We're in a new era of being a smaller player in the world market," Johnson said. "There is no question about that."


Johnson said his group has helped farmers adapt to climate change by advocating less tillage and the planting of more deep-rooted cover crops to hold carbon dioxide in the soil to prevent it from reaching the atmosphere, worsening global warming.

"We just believe in science," said Johnson of climate change.

"Agriculture is the best and most immediately available tool to sequester carbon, and agriculture has to play a big part in that," he said.


Johnson sees promise with a growing number of people who are returning to farming's roots with smaller family-run operations aimed at consumers "who want to know where there food is coming from."

"There is hope in the long term" in a profession Johnson said is ennobled by those doing "God's work."

"The population around the world is growing and people have to eat so there will be continued opportunities," he said.

Johnson said his group's membership has grown by at least 10% in several states in the past year, especially among small producers focused on direct marketing.

Johnson said recent comments made by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue suggesting that small dairy farms may need to get bigger to survive were "uncalled for." Johnson said they sent the wrong message to rural America.

"This get-big-or-get-out mentality in agriculture is really about closing small towns" that depend on family farms, Johnson said.


Farmers Union, established in 1902, leans Democratic and toward smaller farms, though Johnson maintains it's "strictly partisan."

With about 200,000 members, it's also tiny compared with the right-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation, which has about 6 million members and ties to big agribusiness and related industries.

Dale Moore, executive vice president of the latter group, said the Trump administration "is more in line with our policies." But he said the two farm groups have worked in a "collaborative, cooperative way," especially under Johnson's leadership.

Said Johnson: "In terms of political influence, you can't do farm bills that are necessary without everyone being heard," he said.


More Related News

Climate crisis could justify asylum claims: UN committee
Climate crisis could justify asylum claims: UN committee

Governments that send refugees back to countries severely affected by climate change could be in breach of their human rights obligations, a UN committee said on Monday. The independent experts on the Human Rights Committee issued a non-binding but closely watched ruling in a case brought by Ioane Teitiota from the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Several Pacific island nations including Kiribati are seen as among the most vulnerable in the world to climate change as they are just a few metres above sea level.

Climate not considered a top 10 risk by CEOs - survey
Climate not considered a top 10 risk by CEOs - survey
  • US
  • 2020-01-20 17:34:23Z

Climate issues are set to be one of the main talking points at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos this week, but a survey of CEOs released Monday shows that they are not even ranked among the top ten threats to business growth. In its annual report ahead of the gathering in Davos, financial services group PwC said climate change and environmental issues are ranked as the 11th biggest threat to their companies' growth prospects.

Fires set stage for irreversible forest losses in Australia
Fires set stage for irreversible forest losses in Australia
  • World
  • 2020-01-20 05:34:20Z

Australia's forests are burning at a rate unmatched in modern times and scientists say the landscape is being permanently altered as a warming climate brings profound changes to the island continent. Heat waves and drought have fueled bigger and more frequent fires in parts of Australia, so far this season torching some 40,000 square miles (104,000 square kilometers), an area about as big as Ohio. Before the recent wildfires, ecologists divided up Australia's native vegetation into two categories: fire-adapted landscapes that burn periodically, and those that don't burn.

Davos chief welcomes views of Trump, Greta Thunberg at forum
Davos chief welcomes views of Trump, Greta Thunberg at forum

The head of the World Economic Forum says it's "reassuring" that U.S. President Donald Trump and climate activist Greta Thunberg will both return to its annual meeting in Davos this year, noting that concerns about the environment will be a key topic. WEF founder Klaus Schwab sees vast changes in business, society and culture over the 50 years since he created the yearly gathering in the Swiss Alps, which initially was a forum for business leaders but now is a key stop for policymakers and activists as well. Following another year of extreme heat, out-of-control wildfires and melting ice sheets, environmental issues are considered to be the top five long-term risks confronting the...

Thousands gather for Women
Thousands gather for Women's March rallies across the US
  • World
  • 2020-01-18 18:36:36Z

Hundred showed up in New York City and thousands in Washington, D.C. for the rallies, which aim to harness the political power of women, although crowds were noticeably smaller than in previous years. The first marches in 2017 drew hundreds of thousands of people to rallies in cities across the country on the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: US