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Fort Dodge native, former ag secretary Cochran dies

By Staff | Sep 7, 2018




When Dale Cochran stepped into the role of Iowa’s secretary of agriculture at the start of 1987, he expected new challenges.

However, he did not anticipate dealing with a feisty pack of muskrats.

Yet, there they were, attacking a lagoon near the Nishnabotna River in Carroll County, early into what would be a 12-year tenure in the top state ag office.

Cochran, who was born in Fort Dodge in 1928, died Monday in West Des Moines. He was 89.

A Democrat, he was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1964. He served as House speaker from 1975 to 1979.

He retired from his job as Iowa’s secretary of agriculture in 1999.

Cochran farmed for more than 40 years while serving in elected positions.

He is survived by his wife, Jeannene, three daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The funeral is scheduled for Friday at Dunn’s Funeral Home in Des Moines, with burial in Fort Dodge.

But back to those rodents.

“The muskrats are burrowing into a hog confinement lagoon area,” he told Walt Stevens, editor emeritus of The Messenger in March of 1988. “They are tunneling into the lagoon embankment and there’s a threat of the embankment breaking. If that happens, the lagoon system would wash into the river and sewage from the hog lot would cause considerable pollution.”

Cochran used that story to offer a glimpse of what he had gotten himself into.

“I spend many 12-hour days and 70 to 75-hour weeks at the office,” he told Stevens. “In the 14 months I’ve been secretary, I have gone out to lunch only three times except when I speak somewhere or have a noon meeting. I grab an apple or something from the small refrigerator I have in my office and keep on working through the noon hour.”

Even before he became ag secretary, he was known as a hard worker.

Jerry Fitzgerald, of Fort Dodge, was the House majority leader for four years while Cochran was speaker of the House.

“We worked together a lot,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday evening. “We had a good four years.”

He described Cochran as a man who cared about issues and cared about finding ways to get things done.

“He tried hard to represent his area, his interests,” Fitzgerald said. “He cared about things that affected farmers’ ability to survive.”

Fitzgerald recalled that Cochran was very interested in land use. Cochran, he said, had a big role in crafting a major land use bill, that among other things, preserved farm land for farming.

Cochran was elected secretary of agriculture in 1986 and served three terms in that post. He decided against running for re-election in 1998, ending a 33-year-career in state government.

“Agriculture has really been my life,” he said during a Dec. 18, 1998, farewell reception in the lobby of the Wallace State Office Building in Des Moines.

During that reception, he said that trips to Japan and Mexico to market Iowa farm products were among the highlights of his tenure as secretary of agriculture.

At that reception, state Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald credited Cochran for “always wanting to do what’s right and best for the state of Iowa.”

That included dealing with those muskrats.

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