Bill Gates has been revealed as the biggest private owner of farmland in the US, after buying up 242,000 acres in 19 states.

Gates’ portfolio comprises about 242,000 acres of farmland and nearly 27,000 acres of other land across 19 states, according to The Land Report, a magazine for land investors that tracks the nation’s biggest landowners.

Bill Gates is now the largest farmland owner in America

A single square mile contains 640 acres. That means Bill Gates owns 378 square miles of the United States. For comparison, the state of Rhode Island covers an area of 1,214 square miles. Liechtenstein, an independent nation tucked into Europe, covers 62 square miles. Gates also owns more land than the Republic of Malta with its meager holdings of only 122 square miles.

Overall, according to the US Department of Agriculture, in 2018 US farmland totaled up to 899,500,000 acres, a number that had dropped by 870,000 acres from the year prior.

Secretive purchases?

The billionaire Microsoft co-founder has become the largest owner of farmland in the United States by quietly buying up massive plots across the county, a new report says.

Interestingly, Gates’ methods when it comes to acquiring land seem to be rather secretive. The Land Report, the magazine of the Realtors Land Institutedescribed one such purchase, that of a parcel totaling 14,500 acres of farmland known as 100 Circles in eastern Washington that sold for $171 million. 

Writing for The Land Report, Eric O’Keefe described what his investigation of the sale uncovered. 

“The seller was John Hancock Life Insurance, a multibillion-dollar asset manager with key holdings in all the major US markets as well as Canada and Australia,” O’Keefe wrote. 

But, he continued, “The story went dark on the buy side, however. The Tri-City Herald reported that the purchaser was a ‘Louisiana investor,’ a limited liability company associated with Angelina Agriculture of Monterey, Louisiana. Sorry, but that didn’t pass the sniff test.”

O’Keefe found that the “Louisiana investor” didn’t seem to have the characteristics of a company or person that could wield the kind of financial power it would take to acquire a parcel worth nearly $200 million.

Tracking down the buyer, he found that it was an entity called Angelina Agriculture. Consulting business directory Dunn & Bradstreet for this firm, O’Keefe wrote: “At its listed headquarters — 8318 Highway 565 — Angelina Agriculture boasted two employees and reported annual revenues just north of $300,000. Given the size and cost of 100 Circles, both of those figures made no sense at all. Strike two. How about Google Maps? An aerial image of the Highway 565 address revealed a small metal-sided building off by itself in the woods. Strike three, right?”

How could such a tiny outfit swallow such a huge financial transaction? Behind it all, it turned out, was Gates, who now owns over 69,000 acres of Lousiana, almost 48,000 acres of Arkansas, and nearly 26,000 acres of Arizona among other large holdings.

The reason for the purchases?

“It is not entirely clear how Gates’ farmland is being used, or whether any of the land is being set aside for conservation,” Forbes noted.

“However, there is some indication that the land could be used in a way that aligns with the foundation’s values. Cottonwood Ag Management, a subsidiary of Cascade, is a member of Leading Harvest, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable agriculture standards that prioritize protections of crops, soil, and water resources,” according to Forbes.

The foundation aims to “support country-led inclusive agricultural transformation across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” according to its website.

The reason for the purchases, according to O’Keefe, is investment diversity. As O’Keefe reports, in 1994, Gates hired an investment “manager to diversify the couple’s portfolio away from the Microsoft co-founder’s 45 percent stake in the technology giant.” That effort led to the acquisition of vast holdings of land. In 2014 the Wall Street Journal reported, according to O’Keefe, that Gates’ land investments then totaled up to some 100,000 acres. Apparently, land is viewed as a great investment still by Gates, considering that that number has now more than doubled. 

It’s all a little disquieting, though. Gates is on record worrying that the world’s population is too high and that factor is contributing to carbon emissions that we must cut, somehow, to stave off the apocalypse. Farms are fossil-fuel intensive and produce carbon emissions, cow gas, and food, which keeps too many people on the planet.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been involved in agriculture initiatives in other countries, including in sub-Saharan African and South Asian ones.

(Source: The New American)