Buffett's Son Calls for Farmers Not to Treat Soil `Like Dirt'

  • Regulation inevitable without increased conservation, he says
  • Son of Warren rotates crops to cut costs on his Illinois farm

Howard Buffett, the farmer and philanthropist son of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren Buffett, criticized U.S. oversight of water sources as excessive and said farmers should diversify their crops and be better stewards of the environment to avoid increased government regulation.

“We have to show the world that we’re willing" to look after soil and water, Howard Buffett, 61, said Thursday in a joint presentation with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual outlook forum in Arlington, Virginia. "If we don’t, we will be regulated into it.”

The younger Buffett, who’s in line to be non-executive chairman of Berkshire, has been a longtime advocate in the U.S. of environmentally friendly farming, an area in which farmers traditionally have butted heads with regulators.

President Barack Obama’s Clean Water Rule, introduced in 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency, was blocked in Congress earlier this year after pressure from agricultural groups concerned it would interfere in their water and land management. Obama vetoed the move, and the rule remains snarled in the courts.

"I don’t like it," Buffett said of the Clean Water Rule during a separate press conference in Arlington. "That’s a situation where regulators are overstepping."

African Aid

Buffett owns and manages his own farm in central Illinois. He’s also president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which advances agriculture in developing nations. The organization has given away $775 million to combat global hunger, teaching sustainable farming techniques and improving access to clean water with a focus on conflict zones. 

In his chat with Vilsack, Buffett urged better soil treatment and water management as ways farmers can cut costs in an era of declining farm income.

"How you take care of your soil makes a difference," Buffett said in a talk that he peppered with details from his own farm, including a 227-per-acre corn yield last year, well above national averages. "If you treat it like dirt, that’s what you’ll get."

Buffett, a Berkshire director since 1993, has said he plans to spend more than $700 million over the next decade to combat global hunger, with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda topping his list of countries.

“With Howie, it makes total sense for him to focus on agriculture,” his father said of him in an earlier Bloomberg interview last year.