John A. Schnittker, under secretary of agriculture under former President Lyndon B. Johnson and later an influential Washington farm policy consultant, died September 13 at his home near Santa Ynez, California, of heart failure. He was 95.
A native of Kansas with agricultural economics degrees from Kansas State and Iowa State, Schnittker was senior staff economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers in 1958-59 and volunteered in the 1960 campaign of former President John F. Kennedy. He became senior staff adviser to the secretary of agriculture and later USDA chief economist. President Johnson named him under secretary, then the second highest position at USDA, in 1965. As acting secretary in 1967, Schnittker signed the International Grains Arrangement on behalf of the United States.
He rejoined the Kansas State faculty as an associate professor of agricultural economics in 1969 but returned to Washington the following year to join the Robert R. Nathan Associates economic consulting firm. In 1972 he founded Schnittker Associates, where he advised several leading food and agricultural organizations including the American Bakers Association, Pillsbury, Heinold Commodities, the Canadian Wheat Board, the World Bank and several overseas clients. During the 1970s and 1980s he became the “go to” source for agricultural reporters whom he invited for quarterly briefings on the state of the farm economy.
Schnittker moved to Santa Ynez, California, in 1991, where he was active in local and regional environmental issues but continued as a prolific commentator on national farm policy. In an October 2004 essay, he traced how presidential influence on agricultural policymaking had waned as congressional agriculture committee influence increased. Four years later, he wrote to the incoming Obama administration that 2008 was “an ideal time for farm subsidy reduction” because farm income was at a record level and farmers were well-financed. “Farm groups representing commercial farmers will object, of course,” he added.
He is survived by his wife Joan H. Davidson, sons Joseph, John, Martin and Dan and daughters Ann Sparks and Alexa Suskin, 10 grandchildren and his brother Jerry.
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