The largest private farmland owners in the U.S. are people you’d associate more with technology, philanthropy and public health efforts than agriculture.
According to The Land Report magazine, Bill and Melinda Gates now own 242,000 acres of American farmland through their various entities.
For that surprising accomplishment, The Land Report put the famous billionaire co-founder of Microsoft on the cover of its Winter 2020 issue. Here it is, as posted to Twitter on Jan. 11:
— The Land Report (@landreport) January 14, 2021
A 2017 purchase of 14,500 acres in Eastern Washington put the Gateses on the top of the list. This has them ranked by private farmland acres-owned over the Offutt Family, which owns R.D. Offutt Company and affiliates, the largest American potato grower; and Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who own the Wonderful Company that makes Halo clementines, POM juice and Wonderful Pistachios.
The Land Report listed the Gateses, Offutts and Resnicks among the top five U.S. farmland owners, along with the sugar-rich Fanjul family and the California agriculture Boswell family. Here’s the tweet:
Debuting on the 2020 @LandReport 100 sponsored by @Haydenoutdoors: @BillGates & @MelindaGates, America’s largest private #farmland owners! https://t.co/6quxaAZkI7 #2020LR100 pic.twitter.com/Gz2ghC7xHh
— The Land Report (@landreport) January 12, 2021
On the overall list of top 100 landowners (not just farmland owners) in the U.S., Bill Gates is now No. 49.
The Gateses’ owned farmland is in 19 states, with the bulk of it in Louisiana (69,071), Arkansas (47,927) and Nebraska (20,588).
The Gates family also owns 25,750, acres of “transitional land” in Phoenix that seems set for suburban development, and 1,234 acres of “recreational land.”
While there seem to be no public details on what the Gateses plan to do with all their farmland, the company that manages their holdings, Cascade Investment, told The Land Report it is very supportive of sustainable farming.
The Gateses have invested in other agricultural efforts internationally.
On its website, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said its agricultural development focuses on “country-led inclusive agricultural transformation across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.” The foundation also aims to increase smallholder farmer agricultural productivity and income, “equitable consumption of a safe, affordable, nutritious diet year-round” and women’s agricultural empowerment.
The Gates Foundation also started Gates Ag One in 2020, a nonprofit focusing on improving agricultural technology to help small-scale farmers around the world. Bill Gates has also previously invested in Impossible Foods, a company working on plant-based meat alternatives.
“Considering that the industrial beef industry is a $3 trillion business and the impacts that climate change will have on agriculture worldwide, Gates’ farm holdings could play vital yet disruptive roles in the global future of both,” Newsweek said in a recent article.
The upward trend towards large, single-owner farmland acreage can be seen in the work of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, which AG Daily summarized as showing that between 2004 and 2014, overseas investors doubled their U.S. farmland holdings from 13.7 million to 27.3 million acres. So the Gateses are not the only ones holding onto large chunks of U.S. agricultural land.