Carter administration Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland dies at age 90

A member of former President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet died on Sunday.

Former Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland passed away in his home state of Minnesota, his daughter told the Associated Press. He was 90.

Former Carter Cabinet member dies

Bergland died at a nursing home in his hometown of Roseau, in northern Minnesota near the state’s border with Canada, daughter Linda Vatnsdal said.

Bergland was appointed to the Cabinet role in 1977 and served throughout Carter’s administration until the one-term president left office in 1981. He had the uneasy job of selling Minnesota’s farmers on Carter’s embargo on Soviet grain (Carter issued the embargo in 1980 after the communists invaded Afghanistan in 1979).

As secretary, Bergland also conducted studies on American agriculture and organic farming. Former Carter Vice President Walter Mondale remembered Bergland as a “nice” and “confident guy” and said on Sunday that both of them supported the embargo grudgingly.

“I don’t think it was good policy,” Mondale told the AP. “This is going to mean Russians are going to buy their grain somewhere else… I urged the president not to do it. He felt he had to do it.”

Bergland, a Democrat, left office when Carter lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan.

“Carter felt very positive about him. He was very successful in that position. Farmers liked him. That’s a tough job. People in agriculture respected him, and he was always doing very well there,” added Mondale, who lost his own bid against Reagan in 1984 in one of the biggest landslide elections for president.

Farmer, congressman, secretary

A farmer himself, Bergland was a congressman before joining Carter’s administration. He struggled with poverty and had to leave his farm in Minnesota as a young farmer, later bringing his personal experiences with hardship as a farmer to bear on passionate advocacy for environmental and farmers’ causes during his time as a congressman for the state from 1971 to 1977, the New York Times reported.

His interest in farming and the environment continued in his role as Agriculture secretary and after he left the White House; he became president of the Farmland-Eaton World Trade organization in 1981. He later became an executive at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson (D), of the 7th district that Bergland served, expressed his condolences and praised the “exceptional” work of the late congressman for district residents and Minnesota farmers. Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin called Bergland “a champion of American farmers and consumers.”

“Growing up poor in the farmlands of Western Minnesota, Bob understood the difficulties and obstacles that face family farmers as well as anyone,” Martin said in his statement. “After losing his farm to foreclosure as a young man, Bob dedicated his life to elevating the standard of living for hard-working family farmers while at the same time safeguarding the interests of American consumers.”

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A funeral is planned for Bergland for Saturday in Roseau.

President Carter, one of a few living ex-presidents, was present last week at another funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington to honor the memory of former President George H.W. Bush, also Reagan’s vice president, who died late last month.

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