Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, has been revealed as the biggest private owner of farmland in the US, after buying up 242,000 acres in 18 states.
The tech mogul, who is the fourth richest person in the world with a net worth of $121billion, according to Forbes, has quietly built up a massive agriculture portfolio.
But even with his big new agricultural holdings, Gates still doesn’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.
The title for largest landholdings overall goes to US businessman John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, who owns 2.2million acres.
Bill and Melinda Gates, pictured at The Elysee Palace in 2017 where they received the award of Commander of the Legion of Honor, are now the biggest owners of farmland in the US, a new report revealed
The tech billionaire has quietly bought up 242,000 acres of farmland in 18 states – and 268,984 of multi-use land in 19 states in total, making him the biggest agricultural landowner in the US, though far short of the biggest overall landowner in the country
In 2018, a ‘Louisiana investor’, later revealed to be Gates, paid $171 million for a large swath of farmland in the Horse Heaven Hill, making it one of the largest real estate transactions in recent memory
In 2014, Gates reportedly purchased more than 4,500 acres in Suwannee County, Florida, for nearly $28 million
It is unclear why Gates, better known as a self-confessed computing ‘nerd’, has invested in farmland so heavily, and details of the land are scarce, as revealed in The Land Report.
The acquisitions are held directly, as well as through Gates’ personal investment entity, Cascade Investments.
In 1994 Bill and Melinda Gates are said to have hired Michael Larson to help them diversify their property portfolio.
A 2014 Wall Street Journal profile of Larson, Cascade’s chief investment officer, hinted at the beginning of that portfolio, after the piece noted that the firm owns ‘at least 100,000 acres of farmland in California, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana and other states — or an area seven times bigger than Manhattan.’
In six years that number has more than doubled.
In 2014, he reportedly purchased more than 4,500 acres in Suwannee County, Florida, for nearly $28 million.
In 2018 Gates reportedly bought about 16,000 acres in his home state of Washington, including a 14,500-acre tract in the Horse Heaven Hills region that was purchased for nearly $171 million from an insurance company that had paid $75million for it in 2010.
It was the highest priced land sale in the US that year.
Bill Gates, whose house in the Medina area of Seattle is pictured, has built up a diverse property portfolio over the years. He also bought farmland in Washington state in 2018
The farmland was bought by the couple, pictured at Lincoln Center in New York in 2017, mostly through their investment company, Cascade Investments, and is not connected to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also works to help support farming
Dr. Alan Busacca, professor emeritus at Washington State University, told Land Report at the time that the fertile land in the area was used for growing ‘apples, cherries, carrots, dryland and irrigated wheat, and row and field crops’.
He added: ‘In addition, the state’s oldest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, has two of its largest vineyards in that AVA: Canoe Ridge Vineyard and Columbia Crest Vineyard.’
Cascade did not elaborate on the agricultural land purchases other than to say that the company is ‘very supportive of sustainable farming.’
Last year the couple bought an oceanfront home in Del Mar, near San Diego, California, for $43million
The six-bedroom Del Mar home boasts a ten-person jacuzzi and a swimming pool overlooking the ocean
Gates, pictured last June during a concert for COVID-19 relief, purchased the San Diego property just as the pandemic took hold in March
In 2017, Gates reportedly bought a significant stake in 24,800 acres of land outside Phoenix, Arizona, which he planned to turn into a ‘smart city’ with 200,000 residents
Top 5 US landowners
1. John Malone: 2.2 million acres
John Malone is the largest private landowner in the United States. Malone made his fortune as a media tycoon, building the company Tele-Communications, Inc, or TCI, and acting as its CEO before selling it to AT&T for $50 billion in 1999. Malone’s 2.2 million acres are largely located in Maine, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming and include profitable cattle ranches.
2. Ted Turner: 2.0 million acres
CNN founder Ted Turner owns 2 million acres of land largely in New Mexico, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Georgia. Much of Turner’s land is used as grazing land for over 50,000 head of buffalo – the largest private herd of bison in the world.
3. Emmerson family: 2.0 million acres
The Emmerson family owns and operates Sierra Pacific Industries, a company that logs usable lumber after forest fires and sells it to lumber retailers. Through Sierra Pacific, the family owns some 2 million acres in California and Washington.
4. Reed family: Land area: 1.7 million acres
For five generations, the Reed Family has owned and operated the logging company Green Diamond Resource Co. The family’s 1.7 million acres of land are primarily spread across Washington, Oregon, and California.
5. Stan Kroenke: Land area: 1.4 million acres
Real estate mogul and owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Stan Kroenke, owns 1.4 million acres of land in the United States, including a 124,000 acre ranch in Montana and additional land in Wyoming. Kroenke is married to Ann Walkton Kroenke, an heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune.
*According to figures compiled by The Land Report in 2019
Gates hasn’t just invested in farmland.
In total he owns 268,984 acres of land of all types in 19 states, including a suburb up for development – as a so-called ‘smart city’ – outside Phoenix, Arizona.
Since 2017 he reportedly holds a significant stake in 24,800 acres of land on the west side of Phoenix.
The area off Interstate 10, called Belmont, has space for 80,000 homes as well as more than 4,000 acres for schools, offices, and stores; and 3,400 acres of open space.
When fully developed the area could be home to 200,000 residents and be similar in size to the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, The Land Report said.
Last year, Cascade Investment made a second major investment in Arizona by acquiring more than 2,800 acres known as Spurlock Ranch in Buckeye for $25 million, that could be built out to include 8,500 homes.
The six-bed Del Mar home, which boasts a ten-person jacuzzi and swimming pool overlooking the ocean, was bought by the couple in late March as the international coronavirus pandemic began to take hold.
Although the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is not directly connected with Cascade or its investments, it also has a farmland initiative: Gates Ag One, established in the Greater St. Louis area, with a mission to help ‘smallholder farmers adapt to climate change and make food production in low- and middle-income countries more productive, resilient, and sustainable.’
In 2008, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $306 million in grants designed to boost the yields and incomes of millions of small farmers in Africa as well as ‘other parts of the developing world so they can lift themselves and their families out of hunger and poverty.’
Behind Gates in terms of investment in farmland are the cofounders of the Wonderful Company, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, with 190,000 acres.