Farmer/philanthropist Howard Buffett said Tuesday that stronger government action is needed to encourage farmers into compliance with better fertilizer, tillage and other conservation and environmental practices.

“We have a whole culture based on yield,” said Buffett, 55, who owns farmland in his native Nebraska, Illinois and Arizona as well as South Africa.

One of several issues that caused a stalemate in this year’s farm bill discussions in Congress was over making conservation compliance a requirement for eligibility for federal crop insurance.

“Government has the biggest club, and if it doesn’t use it, there will be less good conservation practices,” Buffett said.

Buffett, son of Omaha financier Warren Buffett, has emerged as a force in world agriculture through his foundation, which finances experimental work in Africa and other countries.

At a meeting with Des Moines Register editors and writers, Buffett joined those who urge farmers to abandon tillage on U.S. soils.

“No-till saves fuel and it saves the soil,” Buffett said. “If you manage your operation properly, it won’t cost you yields.”

No-till has made only partial inroads in Iowa. The flat soils in the north-central parts of the state are considered by many farmers and some agronomists to be particularly hard to work without the aeration that comes with tillage.

Buffett stressed that he is not an advocate of organic agriculture, noting that it requires more tillage.

“Organic agriculture may tear up the soil and ruin it more than conventional agriculture, even if you’re not using herbicides and pesticides,” Buffett said.

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  • Howard G. Buffett, No-Tiller & Philanthropist, Shares ‘Role of No-Till in Feeding the World’ at 2010 National No-Tillage Conference in Des Moines: At the time of his presentation to the 2010 National No-Tillage Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, Howard G. Buffett (son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett) had been no-tilling since 1992 on 16,000 acres in Illinois and Nebraska as well as another 6,000-plus acres in South Africa. Buffett’s foundation has funded 45 agricultural projects globally, primarily in Africa and Latin America, all of which are based on the concept of no-till. As a U.N. Ambassador Against Hunger for the World Food Program, his address to no-tillers covered the role of U.S. farmers in global food assistance. Following is a transcript of his presentation, which you may also listen to FREE.