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23 Jun, 2022 00:50

Bill Gates land purchase triggers probe

Trusts and corporations can’t own ranches or farmland in North Dakota, state authorities say
Bill Gates land purchase triggers probe

North Dakota’s attorney general has sent a letter to Red River Trust, an outfit linked to billionaire Bill Gates, over its recent purchase of a large potato farm. Attorney General Drew Wrigley’s office warned the trust of potential violations of state and federal law and asked for more information.

Corporations or limited liability companies are “prohibited from owning or leasing farmland or ranchland in the state of North Dakota” or “engaging in farming or ranching,” according to the letter sent by Wrigley’s office to Red River Trust in Kansas, the agricultural news website AgWeek reported on Wednesday. 

The letter’s existence was confirmed by the Bismarck-based TV station KFYR, which published a copy of the first page. The letter, dated June 21, was also sent to Campbell Farms offices in Grafton, North Dakota. AgWeek revealed on June 13 that Red River had bought the company from the brothers Bill, Greg and Tom Campbell in November 2021, paying $13.5 million for 2,100 acres of their potato-farming operation.

The law also places “certain limitations on the ability of trusts to own farmland or ranchland,” said the letter, addressed to Red River trustee Peter Headley. “Our office needs to confirm how your company uses this land and whether this use meets any of the statutory exceptions.”

If Red River can show that it has such an exemption, the AG’s office will close their probe, but if they are found to be violating the law, they will have to sell the land within a year or face a penalty of “up to $100,000,” according to the letter.

Gates, who made his fortune at Microsoft, retired to pursue a variety of causes – from vaccines around the world to buying up land in the US – through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates has suggested his interest in agriculture had to do with seeds and biofuel, and advocated for switching to synthetic meat as a way to combat climate change.

Using a network of corporations, trusts and asset management companies, the software mogul had acquired more than 240,000 acres (over 97,000 hectares) of farmland as of 2021, with LandReport.com dubbing him “America’s top farmland owner.”