WASHINGTON — President Reagan, as expected, nominated longtime political associate Richard E. Lyng to be secretary of agriculture Wednesday, calling him "a sound and solid friend" of farmers.
Lyng, 67, a former California seed and fertilizer dealer who has held high posts in the California and U.S. agriculture departments, will succeed departing Secretary John R. Block if his nomination is confirmed by the Senate.
Saying that Lyng has developed wide bipartisan respect from his 17 years in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) predicted that he would be easily approved.
California members of Congress praised the selection, with Republican Sen. Pete Wilson and Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced) noting that Lyng will be the first agriculture secretary to hail from the nation's No. 1 farm state.
Administration farm policies are expected to change little under Lyng. Nevertheless, farm lobbyists and lawmakers said they hope that his special access to Reagan, together with his political and administrative savvy, will bring new energy to the battle against economic depression in rural America.
"As the President's former agriculture director in California, Dick will have a direct line to the Oval Office for the American farmer," Dole noted.
In the late 1960s, while Reagan was governor of California, Lyng headed the state Department of Agriculture. He was co-chairman of the agricultural section of Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign and would have been his first agriculture secretary if Dole had not insisted on a Midwest farmer.
Reagan, with Lyng at his side for the Oval Office announcement Wednesday, was asked why he did not choose a working farmer as Block's replacement.
"I picked one who has been a pretty hard-working farmer most of his life," Reagan said. "Just because he's not on a tractor now doesn't mean he isn't a farmer."
Actually, Lyng operated an alfalfa farm for only one year, in between graduating with honors in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and enlisting in the Army shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
For a dozen years after the war, Lyng and his father ran a farm-supply business in Modesto. There followed stints as California agriculture director, assistant secretary of agriculture under former President Richard M. Nixon, president of the American Meat Institute and deputy agriculture secretary under Reagan. For the last year, Lyng has been an agricultural consultant here.
"I am honored and pleased to be given the privilege of serving in the President's Cabinet," Lyng said in a statement.
In an interview, Lyng said he is a great admirer of the President and had been in his office many times. However, contrary to popular notion, he said: "We are not close friends."