Bill and Melinda Gates’ foothold on farmland

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Shortly after America’s largest private farmland owners, Microsoft billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates, acknowledged their pending divorce, some wag on Twitter wondered what might be the appropriate time to wait before he approached the soon-to-be-former missus to ask about renting some of her farmland.

While he was joking, it’s no joke that the about-to-split pair owns the largest amount of working farmland in the nation. According to the Winter 2020 issue of The Land Report, a quarterly magazine that tracks U.S. land sales, Bill and Melinda Gates now own 242,000 acres of farmland worth “more than $690 million.”

If their “transitional” and “recreational” acres are added in, the Gateses own 268,984 acres.

According to TLR, most of it was acquired through Cascade Investments LLC, a private, Washington State-based firm that handles both the Gates family’s personal investments and those of the $50 billion Gates Foundation, a global philanthropic effort dedicated to fight “poverty, disease and inequity.”

Much of the land, mostly purchased in the last decade, lies in the South: 69,071 acres in Louisiana, 47,927 acres in Arkansas, 16,963 acres in Mississippi and 14,828 in Florida.

Climate

When asked on the social media platform Reddit in late March why farmland and why now, Bill Gates first deflected: “My investment group,” presumably Cascade, “chose to do this. It is not connected to climate.” But he quickly pivoted to what sounded more like Gates Foundation strategy than a Gates family farm plan.

“The agriculture sector is important,” he explained. “With more productive seeds, we can avoid deforestation and help Africa deal with the climate difficulty they already face. It is unclear how cheap biofuels can be but if they are cheap it can solve the aviation and truck emissions.”

Fighting climate change in Africa and solving “the aviation and truck emissions” thing aren’t the focus of many American farmers or any American policymakers.

Still, if your next worth exceeds $140 billion and you own 378 square miles of farmland, reality tends to be what you say it is.

Sustainable agriculture

Cascade Investments did tell TLR that it is “very supportive of sustainable agriculture” and it has invested Gates’ money in “plant-based protein companies Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods …”

The two companies make no bones about their zeal to, as Beyond Meat touts on its website, shift “from animal to plant-based meat” so “we can positively impact four growing global issues: human health, climate change, constraints on natural resources, and animal welfare.”

Gates himself went even further about his views on plant-based meats in a February interview with MIT Technology Review, according to the website Ag Funder News. In it, “Gates argued that higher-income societies should completely replace their consumption of cattle-derived beef with ‘synthetic’ alternatives.”

He did add that he “doesn’t think poorest … countries will be eating synthetic meat.” Even so, “… all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef.”

From an agronomic point of view, however, most regenerative or sustainable farming systems require a livestock component — oftentimes cattle — as a key element in most farm’s successful and profitable multi-year, multi-crop rotations.

Livestock or not, Gates believes he’s backing a winner.  “… (P)lant-based protein makers like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat ‘have [a] quality road map and cost road map that makes them totally competitive’” with animal protein, he told the Reddit audience.

Money and power

His family’s fabulous personal wealth, the Gates Foundation’s commitment to funding research into seed, plant and food technology, and now its immense landholdings will make this self-anointed philosopher-king a player in the future of farming and food.

That power, however, should worry farmers everywhere, noted Nick Estes, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, in an April 5 column in The Guardian.

“The principal danger of private farmland owners like Bill Gates,” explained Estes, “is not their professed support of sustainable agriculture often found in philanthropic work — it’s the monopolistic role they play in determining our food systems and land use patterns.”

Just ask Microsoft competitors about “monopolistic” roles in computer software — if you can find any.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

25 COMMENTS

  1. Very true that Gates can dictate reality with so much power.
    Until true reality strikes.
    Hopefully he wont be far away.

  2. What’s the big deal. One or 2 ranches alone in Texas are that large – I don’t see you dumping on those owners.

    • Texas land is probably dry Desert Like Land That Suffers Drought .Real Lack Of Water I Remember A Few Years Ago In Texas Cows And Horses Were Starving To Death Because There Was No GRASS. Here In LOUISIANA We Have To Much Water Just Like Mississippi..It Rains Here On A Regular Basis That Is Why I Believe LOUISIANA Is His Largest Land Holding.THE WATER Is The Main Thing He Wants In This GLOBAL WARMING.

    • They’re not trying to dictate any futuristic bull crap as gates is doing, no one at least those of us that still eat meat asked him his opinion about our choices.

  3. I don’t want Gates deciding what is best for me. I heard him describing in an interview what the plant based meat tasted like. He said “you will get use to it”. I don’t want to get use to it. He needs to stay out of our personal lives.

  4. Could you do some digging into how they intend to manage that land? I tried to figure out if we could lease some of it out, but there’s zero information out there about what they’re actually doing with that land. Like are they partnering with universities to test new seed, running farm incubators, leasing it to beyond meat for soy production, or simply letting lie fallow?

  5. Gates diversed from IT to medicals, we have seen the result. Vaccinations, Vaccinations, Vaccinations.
    Who produces synthetic meat that he suggested? Gates of course.
    Plant-based proteins promotion. Please stay out of Africa Gates.

  6. It does become a land, law, control and vote/political party issue as well. If he and ex-wife cared so much, why didn’t they allow homeless here in USA to bed down on their estates- why always the “foreign countries”.Money.Then there is the newer land mass purchase in Eastern Washington for his exclusive town ,food and to again control political votes.You really do not know what is in “synthetic food”- except a way to increase stock market investments on low $ shares with surety of an increase in the $ of that share while humans become experimental guinea pigs, influence votes and government control as they do play ” key roles” that ultimately end up changing laws and average working citizens livelihood and ways of life and customs.

  7. From Alan Guebert

    The column is about the amount of farmland, not ranch land, owned by Bill and Melinda Gates for two reasons: —The Gates couple doesn’t own ranch land on purpose; they want to impact meat-eating (lessen it, not increase) meat-growing and
    —Farmland is far more productive than ranch land on an acre-by-acre basis. As such, if you hope to alter peoples’ diets, you likely buy farmland, not ranch land.

    Thanks for subscribing, reading, and commenting. Public conversation always changes public policy faster and better than private investment.

    AG

  8. There are 48 other landholders in the United States with Many more acres than the Gates family. Amount them is Ted Turner who owns a combined 2 million acres. One holding contains the largest Buffalo herd in the world!! I don’t understand why the Gate’s holdings are such an issue just because they are “in the news”!

  9. They aren’t trying to control what we eat !!! Figure it out! Bill Gates , in my opinion, is one of the most evil human beings alive.

  10. Gates also owns oxitec the folks that release the GENETICALLY modified mosquitoes. He wanted to vaccinate people with the bugs. It was pointed out a single person could get bit 500 times while his neighbor only 5 so unethical to do to humans and you cant control doses…He actually said it wasn’t unethical to do it to farm animals🤔. Gates needs to be watched closely he is a little off🧐. Messing with nature is stepping on God’s toes….I pray for all our safety …amen

  11. I read an article from bills gates daughter that said he is not nice and didn’t even care about her. I ate an impossible burger and got sick. Dr told my wife not to eat the new plant and factory made meat cause they were worse for her the real beef or and real meat. She has heart troubles. Also said these new burgers have some of the same ingredients as cigarettes and another of sodium and other bad this. I will stick with real meat and not have to worry about my food getting targeted for a way to poison people with bD chemicals from bad people.

  12. I think politicians need to craft policy to guide billionaire in making global decision and reducing their influence. Bill Gates is almost controlling the world

  13. Seriously, am not sure why Gates always think Africa needs help. We are fine without you. Just stay away from our continent. We have the best continent in the world and just because we are poor does not give you the right to always talk about climate change in Africa. You have a bad motive for Africans and nothing you do will wipe us a way from the world.

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