Billionaire Bill Gates has won the legal approval to buy up a huge swath of prime farmland in North Dakota, despite a fierce backlash from residents in the state and beyond.
As Slay News was first to report last month, Gates was initially blocked from buying the land after North Dakota’s Republican Attorney General Drew Wrigley stepped in.
Wrigley’s office demanded answers after Microsoft co-founder Gates tried to buy up the land via his group Red River Trust.
The state AG ordered the group to provide evidence of how it intends to use the land amid allegations that the organization may be violating the state’s Corporate Farming Laws.
The trust had already acquired six parcels of land in Pembina County and was blocked as it continued trying to buy more.
However, Gates has now got the green light to purchase the 2,100 acres of land in the state for $13.5 million.
Wrigley issued a letter saying Gates was granted approval for the transaction after his legal team appealed against the anti-corporate farming law.
The law was established during the Depression-era and prohibits corporations or limited liability companies from owning farmland or ranchland.
However, Gates was able to skirt the law due to it not prohibiting individual trusts from owning the land if it is leased to farmers, which he intends to do.
Gates is the largest private owner of farmland in America after quietly amassing some 270,000 acres across dozens of states, according to last year’s edition of the Land Report 100, an annual survey of the nation’s largest landowners.
The purchase of the land in North Dakota had raised legal questions as well as concerns that ultrarich landowners do not share the state’s values.
Gates’s firm, Red River Trust, purchased $13.5 million worth of land in two counties from wealthy northeastern North Dakota potato growers Campbell Farms.
About 2100 acres of land were sold in the deal, AgWeek reported.
In a curious move, the Campbell family in February filed a partnership name certificate with the North Dakota secretary of state naming their farming operation the Red River Trust – the same name as Gates’s firm.
However, an attorney for Gates’s firm wrote to Wrigley’s office that the Campbells registered the name without his knowledge.
North Dakota’s Agriculture Commissioner, Republican Doug Goehring, previously said that many people feel they are being exploited by the ultra-rich who buy land but do not necessarily share the state’s values.
“I’ve gotten a big earful on this from clear across the state, it’s not even from that neighborhood,” Agricultural Commissioner Doug Goehring said, according to Valley News Live.
“Those people are upset, but there are others that are just livid about this.”
Corporations are exempted from the ownership ban if the land is necessary “for residential or commercial development; the siting of buildings, plants, facilities, industrial parks, or similar business or industrial purposes of the corporation or limited liability company; or for uses supportive of or ancillary to adjacent non-agricultural land for the benefit of both land parcels,” the law reads.
It’s not the first test for a statute that was passed in 1932.
A federal judge in 2018 ruled the law constitutional after a conservative farm group argued that it limits business options for producers and interferes with interstate commerce by barring out-of-state corporations from being involved in North Dakota’s farm industry.
North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum, a former Microsoft executive whose campaign received $100,000 from Microsoft co-founder Gates when Burgum first won in 2016, declined to comment on the farmland sale.
The Republican governor stayed down the middle when asked about his opinion of the anti-corporate farming law.
Burgum and the Legislature expanded the law in 2019 to allow second cousins in the mix of ownership.
“The governor strongly supports family farms and is open to discussions about cutting red tape that puts North Dakota farmers at a disadvantage compared with neighboring states and ensuring that our ranchers and farmers can succeed and grow their operations, helping rural communities to thrive,” Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.
Gates already has a staggering land portfolio.
As of 2021, his largest holdings in the U.S. included 69,071 acres in Louisiana, 47,927 acres in Arkansas, 25,750 acres in Arizona, 20,588 acres in Nebraska, and 16,097 in Washington state.
But even then, Gates didn’t rank in the Top 100 of private landowners overall in the U.S. – when considering owners of land of all types, not just agricultural.
Gates also reportedly shopped for “hundreds of acres of farmland” in Turkey while vacationing aboard a superyacht last November.
He allegedly wanted to create a large sustainable farm in the country.
It is unclear if he ended up purchasing the land.