BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The president of the North Dakota Farmers Union said Tuesday he hopes to play a role in ensuring adequate food supplies worldwide after being elected the leader of a new international farm group.
"For a long time, we've been taken for granted as farmers. Our food has been in surplus. It's always been there," Robert Carlson said. "We may be approaching a time now when food security will become a bigger issue."
Carlson was chosen to lead the World Farmers Organization as it ended its first meeting Tuesday in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The group, which will be based in Rome, has more than 50 agricultural groups and cooperatives as members so far, he said.
Carlson said in a conference call that two of the new organization's primary goals would be promoting profitable farming and food security, which he defined as each nation being able to grow or import a sufficient food supply for its citizens.
While some members have competing interests, they may find common ground once they have a chance to discuss issues at length, Carlson said.
"Once you get people talking and give them some time to explain their views and do some back and forth discussion, it's surprising how often there are concerns that can be assuaged or met," he said.
Doug Goehring, North Dakota's agriculture commissioner, said differences among countries in trade policy, environmental regulations, currency values and other issues present "some tough challenges" to forging a consensus within the organization.
"Are they going to be able to resolve some of this? Well, they can certainly talk about it," Goehring said. "Sometimes it's good just to sit down and talk about some things, identify some of the problems."
Eric Aasmundstad, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, said he wasn't familiar with the new organization and doubted how much it could accomplish.
"There's so much diversity (in agriculture) throughout the world, I can't imagine that it can really do much," he said.
The Farmers Union and Farm Bureau are rival groups in North Dakota, with the Farm Bureau the more conservative of the two.
Carlson announced in May he would not seek re-election president of the farmers union, a job he has held since January 1997. He will leave office in mid-November, after his successor is chosen.
Carlson said he didn't step down with an eye toward seeking the presidency of the new group. He will continue to live in Jamestown, where the North Dakota Farmers Union is based.
"I'm not going to be full-time. I'm not going to be living in Rome ... but I'm going to be doing, clearly, a lot of traveling and a lot of communicating by phone and Internet and Skype," he said.
Roger Johnson, a former North Dakota agriculture commissioner who is now president of the National Farmers Union, said the World Farmers Organization "is going to need the kind of guidance that Robert will be able to provide."
"There is really no better person that I know of who has the right kind of disposition, the right kind of contacts with farmers and farm organizations from around the world," Johnson said. "There is really no one better to be in this particular spot at this particular time."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.