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Earl Lauer Butz | 1974

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Butz was an outspoken Secretary of Agriculture under two Presidents as well as a Dean of Agriculture at Purdue University.

1909-2008 | Artist: Mrs. William S. (Ramona) Farris (1918-2006)

Impact & Accomplishments

Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz (1971-1976) is remembered by many farmers as a leader who championed their cause and made them proud to produce food for the world. During his years serving under Presidents Nixon and Ford, net farm income more than doubled and farm exports tripled, over the previous decade.

Butz revolutionized federal agricultural policy by moving away from many New Deal farm support programs that managed supply, including farm subsidies and acreage retirement programs. In its place, he encouraged farmers to “get big or get out,” especially growers of corn and soy, and he supported a market system that looked to foreign markets for new opportunity. In 1972, Secretary Butz orchestrated the sale of more than $1 billion of U. S. grain to the Soviet Union. He was forced to resign in 1976 after telling an offensive joke.

Raised on an Indiana dairy farm, Butz earned Purdue University’s first doctorate in agricultural economics in 1937. Butz then headed the Ag Economics department there, and he served on several agribusiness boards, including Ralston Purina, Case Tractors, and Stokely Van Camp.

In 1954, President Eisenhower appointed Butz Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and chairman of the U. S. delegation to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Butz returned to Purdue in 1957, to become Dean of Agriculture, and after his years as Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz once more returned to Purdue, to the job he loved most: teaching. In 1999, he donated $1 million to the university’s Department of Agriculture Economics. His portrait was the last to be inducted in Chicago.

Did You Know?

In his mid-90s, Butz was still going to his office at Purdue.

“When President Nixon asked me to come to Washington, he told me he wanted a vigorous spokesman for agriculture,” he told Julius Duscha for an article in The New York Times Magazine in April 1972. “I told him at the time I was sworn in, ‘Mr. President, you may have a more vigorous spokesman than you want.’ "

Courtesy of Purdue Ag Econ. Marshall Martin discusses policy with Earl Butz. From February 1993.

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