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Published March 13 2009

Forum editorial: Johnson enhances ND image

North Dakota’s national profile was raised this week when the state’s commissioner of agriculture won the presidency of the National Farmers Union, one of the most influential agricultural organizations in the country. Roger Johnson will leave the state post he’s held since 1997 and assume his new role at NFU headquarters in Washington, D.C., no later than the end of the month.

Johnson has been active with the Farmers Union all his life. In recent years he’s been in high offices in the national organization for state ag commissioners. His advocacy for agriculture at all levels has earned him a reputation as a knowledgeable, progressive ag commissioner. In North Dakota, he’s one of only two Democrats to hold statewide office, a confirmation that North Dakotans have liked his service in the ag office.

The NFU’s clout in national farm and agribusiness policies likely will be enhanced with a Democrat in the White House and Democratic control of both houses of Congress. The organization has long been identified with the Democrats, although Johnson understands that good farm policy is nonpartisan. For example, he’s earned the respect and support of voters in his home state when the political tide was moving in favor of Republicans.

Johnson’s history in the state goes back to his effective opposition in the 1970s to the original Garrison Diversion Project, a stance for which some North Dakotans have never forgiven him. But the project was changed, not only because of opposition, but also because environmental sensibilities changed. The old project has little in common with its new permutations. A fair reading of Johnson’s views in the 1970s has to conclude his was, at least, partially right.

Since then, the ag commissioner has been on the front lines of diversifying the state’s farm economy with emphasis on value-added entrepreneurship, as highlighted by the “Pride of Dakota” branding campaign. He was one of the strongest voices in the nation warning that restarting importation of Canadian cattle after the mad cow disease scare must be done deliberately and with rigorous scientific analysis. He has championed a number of support programs designed to stimulate small agribusiness, but not at the expense of traditional production agriculture, which remains a mainstay of the state’s economy.

That broad range of experience and policy successes uniquely qualify him to lead the NFU, in addition to his own hands-on experience as a farmer in the Turtle Lake, N.D., area.

Our congratulations to Johnson. The NFU will do very well with a North Dakotan at the helm.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board