While anyone can tell you who farms next them, it is a totally different story of who actually owns the land. In the agriculture industry we know the value of farmland — it is our future and our way of life. To others outside of the industry it is also seen as a good investment with great returns, that is why so many domestic — and foreign — companies also invest in farmland. Upon further inspection of the breakdown of the private ownership of farmland, one man stands out as owning more than anyone else: Bill Gates.
Gates is known for his programming skill and as the co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation. His foundation has also long been a financial supporter of agricultural and science entities like the Alliance for Science at Cornell University. But what you might not have known is that Gates has become the largest private owner of United States farmland, according to The Land Report, with a total of 268,985 acres, almost all of which is active farmland.
With an estimated net worth of nearly $121 billion, according to Forbes, Gates has a little more spending money than the average American farmer (heavy sarcasm). So it is no wonder that he decided to further invest in the future of feeding, clothing, and providing for future generations.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has not commented on exactly how the land is being used, but their foundation states they believe in sustainability and economic opportunity. According to their website, “We invest in this sector because economic growth that focuses on agriculture and that increases the incomes of smallholder farmers is particularly effective in reducing poverty, more so than investments in other sectors.”
The Land Report’s research insinuates the land is held directly and also by third party entities, such as Cascade Investments, that is run by Gates’ investors. In addition to 242,000 acres of farmland, Gates also has 25,750 transitional acres, and 1,234 recreational acres, for a grand total of 268,985 acres. With ownership in a total of 19 states, the largest include Louisiana (69,071), Arkansas (47,927), Arizona (25,750), and Nebraska (20,588). Other states include Washington, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Mississippi, Florida, and North Carolina.
While it is truly hard to grasp owning 268,985 acres of land, Gates is not the only major stakeholder of farmland. The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting tool allows individuals to search by county, state, or name for foreign companies who own land in the United States. Between 2004 and 2014, this database showed foreign investors doubled their American farmland holdings — an increase from 13.7 million to 27.3 million acres. While it would be ideal for farmers and ranchers to have a better opportunity to own the land they work, that has not been the case for quite sometime. However, American farmers and ranchers have learned to adapt their surroundings while still caring for the land through it all.