By Vance Ehmke

Recently I had the opportunity to speak at a conference at Indiana's Purdue University. And I just wanted to report that Earl Butz is alive and well.

As you remember, Earl was the Secretary of Agriculture in the '70s under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Prior to that he was Dean of the College of Agriculture at Purdue-which by the way, is the K-State of Indiana.

Yet at age 90, Earl still comes to the office every day. Four of our family had a private lunch with him on Feb. 25-and he is just as sharp witted as ever.

For instance, he says consultants are geldings who follow the herd for advice. He also still firmly believes the small family farm is a farm unit small enough that you starve to death slowly. He knew the importance of technology. He understood the inefficiencies of set-asides.

During lunch, he told us to adapt or die. He also told us if it weren't for 4-H, he never would have been U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

But I asked how is Kansan Dan Glickman doing as Secretary? Earl said Dan is an excellent administrator, but he has shyed away from the role of fighting for and standing up for agriculture. That was probably Earl Butz's strong suit. Always a promoter of U.S. agriculture, he pointed out that 11% of our take-home pay goes for food. That leaves 89% of the income to be spent on something else. That is darned good for the U.S. economy. We are the envy of the world.

Frequently with administration jobs like Secretary of Agriculture, there are two ways to look at policy. Either you agree with who's in charge, or you don't take the job. I asked Earl if the Nixon administration hadn't given you the power to champion agriculture, what would you have done? He said, "I would have taken the power".

After meeting Earl Butz, I don't doubt that for a second. Even at 90, this is a guy you don't want to cross swords with.

Imagine Earl Butz 25 or 30 years ago in his peak. Henry Kissinger can. Kissinger was Secretary of State back then. I read an article about Earl Butz once in which he talked about Kissinger and their frequent clashes over farm policy versus State Department policy. Earl said in every one of those cases dealing with embargoes and sanctions, he fought tooth and toenail for the American farmer and for free trade-but in every one of those cases, he went down in a hail of bullets. He lost every one of them.

Butz probably knew how those debates would turn out. But convinced he was right, he still chose to fight for the farmer's interest.

Well, today, Earl Butz is in his 90s. And we are still out here on the front lines fighting those same battles. But thanks to the legend of Earl Butz, he put those things on the agenda-and they are still there, just waiting for the next champion of agriculture to come along.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.