Clifford Hardin, 94, dies; agriculture chief under Nixon

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Clifford M. Hardin, 94, the secretary of agriculture in the Nixon administration whose decision not to raise the price of milk was overturned by the president in exchange for a promised political contribution from the dairy industry, died April 4 in Lincoln, Neb. He had renal failure and congestive heart failure.

Mr. Hardin, an experienced agricultural economist, decided in 1971 that there was no reason to raise federal price supports although milk producers were clamoring for higher subsidies. Apparently unbeknown to him at the time, the Associated Milk Producers had promised President Richard M. Nixon's aides $2 million in campaign donations several months earlier if the administration would raise the supports, which would then artificially inflate the price of milk for consumers.

A few days later, the dairy producers donated $10,000 to Nixon's re-election campaign, in addition to the $100,000 in cash they had previously given to Nixon's personal attorney, Herbert W. Kalmbach. The following day, a dairy lobbyist met with the president at the White House; the day after that, Mr. Hardin's decision was reversed. after Nixon discussed with him and others the political implications of resisting dairy farmers' demands.

It wasn't the only time that Mr. Hardin's political opinions were at odds with the chief executive. During the same spring of 1971, he opposed the administration's plan to give welfare recipients cash payments instead of food stamps. On Feb. 22, 1971, Chief Domestic Policy Adviser John D. Ehrlichman told Nixon of Mr. Hardin's "very strong opposition. . . . He thinks the farmers will oppose it and that'd kill welfare reform," according to transcripts at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. The cash-for-food-stamps idea was never implemented.

Mr. Hardin, who had been appointed to the Cabinet in 1969 by Nixon, successfully extended the federal food stamp program and established the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service. When he resigned in late 1971, Nixon praised him for performing "a political miracle" in getting the 1970 farm bill passed, as well as initiating a major program to increase agricultural exports.

He essentially switched jobs with his Agriculture Department successor, Earl Butz, who had been chairman of Ralston Purina. Mr. Hardin became vice chairman and vice president for research at Ralston Purina, and chairman of Ralston Purina of Canada until 1980. He then became director of the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in St. Louis, and vice president and board member at Stifel Nicolaus, an investment banking firm in St. Louis.

Clifford Morris Hardin was born in Knightstown, Ind., and grew up on a family farm nearby. As a high school student, he ran the farm while his father operated another in Florida, and decades later lamented that he had waited too long one year to sell the tomato crop.

He graduated in 1937 from Purdue University, from which he also earned a master's degree in 1939 and a doctorate in 1941. He did postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago before teaching agricultural economics at the University of Wisconsin. He moved to Michigan State University after a few years and became assistant director and then director of the school's agricultural experiment station. In 1953 he was named MSU's dean of agriculture.

In 1954 at the age of 38, he was named chancellor of the University of Nebraska, and was then the youngest university president in the country. He held that job until 1969, quadrupling enrollment and increasing the state's financial support for the school. In 1994, the university's School of Natural Resources building was named after him.

Two of his former assistants in Washington, Richard Lyng and Clayton Yeutter, each later became Secretary of Agriculture, and 13 administrators who worked for him at the University of Nebraska went on to become university presidents, the family said.

He also served on multiple corporate boards, including the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and as president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Survivors include his wife of 71 years, Martha Wood of Lincoln; five children, Sue Wood of Lincoln, Clifford W. Hardin, who lives in Asia, Cynthia Milligan of Lincoln, Nancy Rogers of Columbus, Ohio, and James Hardin of St. Louis; a sister; 15 grandchildren; and 23 great-grandchildren.

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