March 4, 2019

Contact: Andrew Jerome, 202.314.3106

BELLEVUE, Wash. – Family farm agriculture endures in the social fabric of the United States and as the backbone of a safe and secure national food system because of the tireless advocacy and hard work of men and women across the industry. National Farmers Union (NFU) today presented its Meritorious Service Award, the organization’s highest honor, to two of these individuals at the NFU 117th Anniversary Convention.

NFU presented Gene Paul of Minnesota with the Meritorious Service Award to Humanity and Paul Symens with the Meritorious Service Award to Farmers Union and to American Agriculture.

“Both Gene and Paul spent their careers and lives bettering life for American farm and ranch families, and their communities,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “It is important to celebrate champions for family farmers and rural communities, and to honor these men in particular for their service. I am proud to recognize their contributions with our organization’s highest honor, the Meritorious Service Award.”

Paul and Symens join past recipients of the Meritorious Service Award, including former Members of Congress and a former United States President, who have made particularly noteworthy contributions to family agriculture, humanity, and Farmers Union at the state and national levels.

A list of past recipients can be found here.

About the Recipients

Gene Paul – Meritorious Service Award to Humanity

Gene Paul has dedicated decades of his life advocating for rural communities. In his work with National Farmers Union and the National Farmers Organization (NFO), he has lent his expertise to countless rural issues, working tirelessly to increase market opportunities, campaign for fair farm prices, and build support for farm policy among advocacy groups.

Gene began his leadership in NFO in the early 1960s. He served on the organization’s National Board of Directors and its Board of Trustees, before completing a four-year term as NFO President from 1995-1999. He also played an active role in the development of the NFU-NFO joint marketing agreement to leverage NFO’s expertise in marketing commodities and NFU’s history of legislative influence. He currently holds the position of NFO National Legislative Coordinator.

Gene has owned and operated a second-generation diversified grain and livestock farm since 1959. He is also an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church.

Paul Symens – Meritorious Service Award to Farmers Union and to American Agriculture

Paul Symens has demonstrated appreciable commitment to Farmers Union’s mission. Not only is he a lifetime Farmers Union member since 1962, but he has also held an impressive number of leadership positions within the organization. He has served on the South Dakota Farmers Union Board of Directors and as President of the Marshall County Farmers Union chapter. Additionally, he had a 36-year-long tenure on the Farmers Union Marketing and Processing Association Board of Directors.

Paul worked on behalf of South Dakota producers in the political arena as well. He spent 16 years in the South Dakota legislature as a state senator, where he passionately advocated for family farmers and ranchers. He continues this work in his current role as Marshall County Commissioner.

Despite his busy schedule, Paul still operates his family’s operation in Britton, South Dakota, which includes crop ground, purebred Limousin cattle, and a feedlot.


Stay Connected
Follow along with NFU’s 117th Anniversary Convention using the hashtag #NFU2019, and follow NFU on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Select programming will be livestreamed on Facebook Live on the NFU Facebook page. Download the NFU Convention app here for more information.

Download Audio
To download an audio file of Roger Johnson’s quotes, visit our website at

About NFU
National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.

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