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March 2, 2021
The Land Report which claims it is “the magazine of the American landowner” on January 11 posted a story claiming that Bill and Melinda Gates were the top farmland owners in the United States! The number two farm family was listed as the Offutt Family from North Dakota and allegedly the largest John Deere dealer in the United States. It is also the largest potato grower in the U.S. The Fanjul family, refugees from Cuba, is the number four family with over 160,000 acres.
The article by Eric O’Keefe claimed that Mr. Gates’ latest purchase was $12,000 an acre land in Benton County, Washington for approximately $171 million. That is real money! Mr. O‘Keefe tracked down the purchaser and it turned out to be Mr. Gates.
There is an interesting map of Mr. Gates’ land holdings by state. He owns 17,940 acres in Illinois; 9,136 acres in Indiana; 14,828 acres in Florida; 69,071 acres in Louisiana; 25,750 acres in Arizona; 16,097 acres in Washington State; and one acre in New Mexico.
The New York Post on February 28 asked “People want to know, why does Bill Gates want all this land?” The New York Post story speculates that Gates is going to create “…a smart city in Phoenix, Arizona…” It is also speculated that Mr. Gates wants to “single-handedly” reinvent farming. Others indicate that Mr. Gates is very conservative and likes investing in a diversified portfolio. Another reason for Mr. Gates to invest in all this farmland is that “Farmland has had a remarkably consistent ability to hedge against inflation….” according to a University of Illinois professor.
Some of Mr. Gates’ land purchases are in transitional areas. According to The Land Report, 25,750 acres are in this transitional category as well as an investment in recreational land which amounts to 1,234 acres.
It is interesting to note Mr. Gates owns only 552 acres in Iowa, vs. Nebraska where he owns 20,588 acres.
Most of Mr. Gates’ purchases are made through “front organizations” and it appears that Cascade Investment is the front group purchasing the land.
We have all read that Gates is deeply engaged in the sustainable farming movement. He has allegedly said wealthy countries should change their eating habits and eat only “100% synthetic beef”. Mr. Gates believes strongly that we need to not eat beef because this would allow ranchers to cut their herds and therefore reduce methane emissions.
Gates is also quoted as saying “Eventually, that [a] green premium is modest enough that you can sort of change the behavior of people or use regulation to totally shift the demand.” Possibly Mr. Gates will use his approximately 269,000 acres as a model for climate change. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has an agricultural initiative which claims it helps “smallholder farmers adapt to climate change and make food production in low- and middle-income countries more productive, resilient, and sustainable.”
As most of us know, farmland sales generally involve only a few acres or hundreds of acres. Thousand acre-plus transactions are rare. Generally, only sovereign wealth funds or life insurance companies buy huge tracts of land. The January 11 issue of The Land Report is worth reading. It will not tell you that Bill Gates is your neighbor. If the land is owned by the Cascade Investment Group or Cottonwood Ag Management it is likely that Bill Gates may be one of your neighbors.
In terms of agriculture and his practices Bill Gates, Microsoft billionaire, may be more than your neighbor.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.
Attorney at Law, Gary H. Baise
Gary Baise is an Illinois farmer and attorney. He also serves as outside General Counsel for several national agriculture organizations, including Agricultural Retailers Association and National Sorghum Producers. Baise organized President Trump’s agricultural team of advisers. He was the first Chief of Staff to the first U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. He owns a family farm in Jacksonville, Ill.
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