A recent purchase of 2,100 acres of prime North Dakota farmland by a group linked to billionaire Bill Gates has left some people in the state worried that it will be taken over by the ultra-rich.
Gates has an estimated 269,000 acres in dozens of states, based on last year’s edition of the Land Report 100, a yearly survey of the nation’s largest landowners. The co-founder of Microsoft is considered the largest private owner of farmland in the United States. He owns less than 1 percent of the total farmland in the country.
As there is a law designed to protect family farms, the attorney general of North Dakota asked the trust that was involved in the purchase to explain how it planned to use the land to comply with the rules set forth in the state’s anti-corporate farming law.
The Depression-era law bars all corporations or limited liability companies from owning or leasing farm or ranch land, with some exceptions.
“I don’t know that it’s quite as volatile a situation as some have depicted,” North Dakota Republican Attorney General Drew Wrigley declared to The Associated Press on June 23rd. “It’s taken off, it’s all over the planet, but it’s not me sticking a finger in the eye of Bill Gates. That’s not what this is.”
The state’s agriculture commissioner, Republican Doug Goehring, stated to a North Dakota television station that some locals feel like they are being taken advantage of by the ultra-wealthy who are buying land but don’t 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. Those people are upset, but there are others that are just livid about this,” Goehring declared to KFYR.
Goehring, who is presently on a state-sponsored trade mission to the United Kingdom, was not immediately available to respond to an emailed list of questions from the AP.
Charles V. Zehren, a spokesman for the Gates investment firm, declined on June 23rd to respond to the AP request.
It is common for the attorney general’s office to issue a request for information when it is notified of farmland sales.