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My Interview with Howard Buffett February 8, 2013

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau

Last month, I sat down with American philanthropist, photographer and farmer Howard Buffett, eldest son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Named after his grandfather, Howard grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and has been active in business, politics, agriculture conservation, photography and philanthropy. Without question, billionaire sons might have large expectations placed on them, and certainly reading his bio can make one get qualifications fatigue.

 

And you always wonder, how grounded are they? Well, I can answer that. He’s very grounded and certainly focused on his passion, farming.

 

And since one of his “foundation” farms is in Arizona, I talked him into meeting with me. But I’m reserving the full interview for our Arizona Farm Bureau members in the March 2013 issue of Arizona Agriculture. Oh, he’s a member too.

 

I joined Howard Buffett in late January for a sit-down interview about American agriculture and specifically, Arizona agriculture. The full interview will be in a future issue of our monthly magazine.

So, for a sampling of what we talked about, I’ll share what he said was his inspiration to farm.

 

Buffett: My mom always told me I didn’t have enough Tonka toys when I was little. I just like playing in the dirt. That’s how I got started.

 

I like doing stuff that’s physical, the environment and I love equipment.

 

The big epiphany [to make a difference in agriculture]; the real passion came through my photography when I found myself photographing children that were suffering so much. I photographed children that have died of malnutrition within 2 or 3 days from being photographed. Those were difficult photographs. You can’t just walk up and take photos. You have to be sensitive to the situation.

 

The greatest resource we have is to bring people to our farms. We’ve brought a lot to our farm in Illinois, put them on the combine, talked to them and they’ve walked away with a different opinion about farming and a different opinion on the way things can be done. They’ve discovered what it takes to do things and also come away understanding why certain things won’t work and why other do.

 

The farms are the best education tools we’ve got!

 

Arizona Agriculture: You point out obvious hunger in other countries. It’s a bit more hidden in the United States some say because of pride. What’s drawing you to help here in America?

Buffett: It was not a conscious decision. Two things happened simultaneously. One, we’ve been working on agriculture productivity for small farmers all over the world, especially Africa and Latin America; at the same time it leads you to deal with hunger issues.

 

What first got me thinking about hunger in the United States were farmers. We can improve productivity for all these small farmers but we’re still going to need a really productive United States to meet all the food security needs of the future. This led me to start thinking about who can we partner with; Feeding America, a nationwide network of member food banks, came along. We’d actually been talking to them before but just hadn’t seen an opportunity before this more recent opportunity.

 

I started learning a lot more about hunger in America at the same time I was learning a lot more about agriculture in America and really shifted my thinking on both issues. What we want to do in America is use our resources in such a way that other people are not doing what we’re doing. In this country there are so many resources that don’t exist in other countries, but we don’t want to be duplicating efforts. So we’ve tried to develop an approach on hunger in America and how we approach farmers in this country with resources not common to what’s already occurring.

 

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I had a really great conversation with Mr. Buffett. Stay tuned.

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