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Former agriculture secretary, Minnesota congressman Bergland dies at 90

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Obit Bergland
In a Jan. 23, 1977 photo, Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland (center) talks with guests at a National Press Club reception. Bergland died Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018 at a nursing home in Roseau, Minn. He was 90.
Kent Kobersteen | Star Tribune via AP

Updated: 5:25 p.m. | Posted: 3:40 p.m.

Former U.S. agriculture secretary and Minnesota congressman Bob Bergland has died at age 90.

Bergland's daughter Linda Vatnsdal said he died Sunday at a nursing home in Roseau in northern Minnesota. He had been at the nursing home for about a week after a couple of weeks in a hospital, she said.

As agriculture secretary for President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, Bergland had the difficult job of defending to Midwest farmers Carter's unpopular 1980 decision to embargo grain sales to the Soviet Union after the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Vice President Walter Mondale recalled Sunday that both he and Bergland did not like the grain embargo.

"I don't think it was good policy," Mondale told the Associated Press. "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."

Speaking with MPR News in 1994, Bergland recalled working to develop other markets for farmers to sell their grain.

"We lost the Russian business but we picked up business everywhere else in the world," he recalled. "We worked hard at developing those markets, and got them in Mexico and China and Central America. ... We picked up markets that we never had before."

Carter lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan, and Bergland's term as agriculture secretary ended with the Carter administration in 1981.

Mondale said Bergland was a "nice guy, also a very confident guy."

"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," Mondale added.

Bergland, a Democrat, was a U.S. House member representing Minnesota's 7th District from 1971 to 1977 before becoming agriculture secretary under Carter. 

While heading the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bergland commissioned a major report on the structure of American agriculture, "A Time to Choose," and also a USDA study on organic farming. He later served as vice president and general manager of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and as a regent for the University of Minnesota.

His funeral is planned for Saturday in Roseau.

MPR News contributed to this report.