Howard Buffet Enlists the Help of Producers


Decatur, Ill (WSJ) — The solitude and meditative hum inside the cab of a John Deere tractor give Howard G. Buffett a place to think.

The middle child of billionaire investor Warren Buffett and the future nonexecutive chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Mr. Buffett, along with his foundation, owns 3,780 acres of farmland across three counties in central Illinois. He bumps along rows of corn and soybeans in a tractor outfitted with a GPS system, air-conditioning, a radio, an iPad and a cellphone.

It was in this rolling office that the roots of an idea took hold: On Thursday, Mr. Buffett plans to announce a new charitable effort that will help farmers donate a portion of their proceeds from crop sales to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief group. The tax-deductible donations will filter back to Feeding America food banks in the farmers’ communities.

Mr. Buffett is urging farmers to set aside one acre of their cropland for the effort. The boost to Feeding America’s 53 rural food banks, primarily in the Midwest, is projected to be in the millions of dollars, though the success of the Invest an Acre program depends on the ease with which farmers can make a donation, the size of the harvest and critically, crop prices. By one conservative estimate, an acre of standard corn would yield about 150 bushels; assuming $6 per bushel, that would equate to a $900 donation.

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation will donate up to $3 million for administrative and promotional costs.

“It’s not a slam dunk,” Mr. Buffett conceded, because of the need to educate farmers about hunger issues and the variables involved in crop yields, “but it has the potential to engage U.S. farmers in the issue of hunger at a scale that’s never been done before.”

Mr. Buffett has been farming for 35 years. His $225 million foundation primarily funds international agricultural-development programs.

But during last year’s harvest, Mr. Buffett was thinking about hunger closer to home. While spending long days in his tractor, he planned a pre-Thanksgiving lunch for the families of children at Harris Elementary School, a public school in Decatur. Some 92{fd15d42d1b024b97d6d50958be27cc8145b6addb99e015780abccf2984117bb0} of its students get a free or reduced-price lunch.

Mr. Buffett, 57 years old, said that at the meal, served in the school cafeteria, he met a boy who said he liked a guaranteed daily lunch because dinner depended on whatever was in the house.

“This is not unique. It’s not like we went out and tried to pick some school different from anyplace else and find some kid that would tell me these stories,” says Mr. Buffett. “This is kind of normal for millions of kids.”

The fact that the children lived not far from abundant farmland wasn’t lost on him.

From the air, rural Illinois is a quilt of farmland. On the ground, the deep black soil — which Mr. Buffett likes to say is some of the richest in the country — stretches along the flat land, interrupted only by a farmhouse or grain elevator.

This year, farmers in the U.S. will plant a record acreage of corn. The key to converting that into a windfall is a partnership with Decatur-based agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co., said Mr. Buffett, who previously served as a senior executive at the company. He personally brokered the relationship amid an effort by Feeding America to broaden its support.

Mr. Buffett worked out the donation mechanics with ADM employees at his local grain elevator in Taylorville, Ill. ADM will promote the program with its 80,000 farmers who, on average, farm roughly 1,500 acres. Farmers will be able to pledge bushels to the program ahead of time or donate on delivery at one of 250 ADM-owned grain elevators.

Mr. Buffett said generosity among farmers is second nature, especially at a time when those who grow commodity crops have had record income.

Some neighbors have already voiced support for the program. Patrick Grant, who farms 2,500 acres of wheat, corn and soybeans, mostly in Owaneco, Ill., said he likes the simplicity of the program.

“I think it’s a very positive way for local producers . . . to be able to give locally,” Mr. Grant said. “That’s why I told Howard: definitely. We wanted to be part of it.”

Source:  Wall Street Journal

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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