Former ag secretary, Dick Lyng, dies in Modesto

A long time Central California agricultural businessman, Lyng served as secretary of agriculture from 1986 to 1989. He was a mentor to the current secretary, Ann Veneman, the second California to hold the post and the first woman secretary.

He served as head of California’s Department of Food and Agriculture under then Gov. Ronald Reagan, who, as president, appointed Lyng deputy secretary of agriculture and the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture after Secretary John Block resigned.

Lyng was a quiet yet forceful secretary who shaped domestic and global agricultural policies with the aura of a diplomat or ambassador. Though he was a strong advocate for agriculture in all the farm bill debates and farm disaster relief efforts, he once said his greatest accomplishment was creation of the department’s Food Stamp program designed to help the nation’s poor and needy.

“Secretary Lyng was a visionary leader in agriculture who worked passionately on behalf of this nation’s farmers and ranchers. He was a friend, a mentor and person of great integrity whose insight, candor and wisdom will be sorely missed," said Veneman.

“I join the entire USDA family and agriculture community throughout the nation in offering our deepest sympathies and prayers to the entire Lyng family, particularly his daughters and grandchildren.

“Secretary Lyng shared many friends and colleagues and touched the lives of so many people. Today while we mourn his loss, we also celebrate a remarkable man and an inspiring life journey.”

Lyng was born in San Francisco, but he and his family were longtime fixtures of Modesto, the base of his family’s business.

Lyng received a business degree from Notre Dame in 1940 and later spent four years in the Pacific during World War II. He was president of the Ed J. Lyng Co., a family-owned seed and bean business in Modesto, from 1945 to 1967, when he was named deputy director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. He eventually became state agriculture secretary and later joined USDA in the Nixon administration.

Veneman worked for Lyng at USDA, joining the Foreign Agriculture Service when Lyng became secretary for then President Reagan.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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