By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
SAVANNAH, Georgia (DTN) -- Delegates at the National Farmers Union annual meeting voted overwhelmingly Monday for Rob Larew to take over as the organization's new president.
Larew was elected to a two-year term replacing Roger Johnson who officially retired as NFU president at the annual meeting after leading the organization since 2009. NFU is holding its 118th annual meeting this week in Savannah, Georgia.
Larew grew up on West Virginia dairy farm, but has spent most of his career in Washington working on agricultural issues. He served more than 22 years as a staffer in Congress, mostly serving on the House Agriculture Committee, and also worked at USDA. Larew was most recently staff director for the Agriculture Committee before becoming NFU's senior vice president of Public Policy and Communications in fall 2016.
Larew, 52, told NFU members at the convention in some brief comments after the election that one of his main goals is to grow NFU membership as president. NFU has a strong presence in the Plains and Midwest, but some states, such as in the Southeast, do not have NFU chapters.
"I think there is a lot of opportunity in a number of the parts of the country," Larew said. "I think a big part of it is really getting out there and getting in front of what we stand for, our values, and our priorities. I think there are a lot of parallels out there with folks in different parts of the country. I think our prospects for membership look bright."
Larew won 74% of the delegate vote over Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, and Mike Eby, a dairy farmer and advocate from Pennsylvania.
Patty Edelburg, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, ran unopposed for another term as national vice president.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue spoke to NFU leaders before delegates voted in the leadership election later in the day. Perdue said it was a quick trip to Savannah but he came to recognize NFU's retiring president. Perdue called Johnson a visionary leader who is "even-keel" and "polite," but "he can sure write a mean letter sometimes," drawing some laughter.
"But that's what leadership is all about," Perdue said. "You guys are not a run-of-the-mill organization. You come from the live-free-or-die part of the world, for the most part. You exhibit that really well."
"I am so honored that the farmers and ranchers, rural Americans, and advocates who make National Farmers Union all that it is have entrusted me with this great responsibility," Larew said. "Under Roger's leadership, this organization has grown and flourished. I look forward to building on those accomplishments to further expand the reach and strengthen the reputation of Farmers Union."
PERDUE, JOHNSON TALK TRADE, MFP PAYMENTS
In his comments, Perdue reiterated much of what he said to farmers Friday at Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas. Perdue stressed to NFU members his position that if trade returns to normal levels, there is a much smaller chance farmers would receive a Market Facilitation Program payment in 2020.
"Demand drives up prices," Perdue said. "We have to be really careful. If we see exports move upward, export demand moving up, and the prices don't move -- again, that's on the supply side. That's what markets do, they arbitrage between supply and demand. If we have got more supply than we can handle even with good trade, we have got to be careful."
In his last speech before turning over the reins of National Farmers Union to an incoming president, Johnson on Sunday night warned farmers to watch out for what happens to farm income and trade when MFP payments end.
"We're going to get another MFP because it's an election year," Johnson said. "Even the president said it here a week or so ago -- a day or two after the secretary (of agriculture) said it wouldn't happen. Well, the president is the one in charge, so the secretary is changing his tune."
Johnson noted the payments from the two years of MFP, totaling $23.24 billion, according to USDA, "are swamping" the farm programs that come from the farm bill. That undercuts the compromise and the five years it takes to develop a farm bill and its programs, he said.
"We've argued all along from the very first proposal that the White House should be sitting down with the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and be jointly developing how they are going to spend this money so it is done in a way that is sensitive to some of the political dynamics that it takes to pass a farm bill," Johnson said.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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