Why Is Bill Gates Buying Up So Much Farmland?

When one of the richest men in the world starts to acquire a lot of any asset, it’s natural to wonder why. What do they know that the rest of us don’t?

With Bill Gates snapping up farmland left, right and center, questions have arisen as to his motivations. Given that the Microsoft founder has access to information flows that few ordinary people can only dream about, what is his end goal?

The same questions loom about why Mark Zuckerberg decided to build an underground bunker on his island in Hawaii? Or why he has a herd of cattle on his farm that are fed, according to himself, macadamia nuts to in order to create wagyu beef. 

So when someone actually asked Bill Gates for his answer, it ended up being more simple than many could imagine.

Why Is Bill Gates Buying Up So Much Farmland?

Bill Gates claims that he owns just 1/4,000th of the farmland in the US in order to make the farms more productive and create more jobs.

He further explained that there is no grand scheme involved in the purchase of the land but rather that the decisions to buy the land are made by a professional investment team.

While the answers are somewhat comforting to those who had claimed, incorrectly, that Gates owned 80% of the farmland in the US, the truth is the purchases are likely not as wholly altruistic as Gates stated.

In reality, Gates has likely recognized that land is a scarce asset that has, over time, appreciated in value at a relatively steady rate over the long-term.

While it’s not an investment that would appeal to most investors who are looking to generate higher returns on capital, Gates sits in the enviable position of caring less about making money and more about protecting what money he has. By acquiring land, he effectively ensures that his enormous wealth is preserved in a steadily growing asset over the long-term.

How Much Farmland Does Bill Gates Own?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Agriculture Statistics Service statistics reveal that Bill Gates owns 242,000 acres of land, representing approximately 0.03% of all US farmland.

That amounts to about 378 square miles of land owned by Bill Gates which equates to around 1/10th the size of the state of Ohio. 

Compared to the top farmland owners in the US, Bill Gates owns a relatively modest amount. For example, John Malone owns approximately 2.2 million acres, or around ten times more than Gates.

The Emmerson family is reportedly the largest land owner in the US with 2.411 million acres while Ted Turner is the third largest owner with 2 million acres.

Other major holders include families, such as the Reed, Singleton, Buck and Irving families, all of whom rank in the top 10 farmland owners in the United States.

What Is The Largest Farm In The United States?

In light of concerns over Bill Gates ownership it’s worth highlighting that his entire holding doesn’t even come close to the size of the largest ranch in the United States.

King Ranch spans an enormous 825,000 acres and is comprised of four land tracts near the southern part of Texas. Founded by former steamboat captain, Richard King, it deals primarily in cattle and horses these days. 

Just as King’s heirs continued the tradition following his death, so too are the majority of farms in the US made up of family farms. Some research estimates are that 98% of all agricultural land farms in the US are family run.

How Much Farmland Does Jeff Bezos Own?

It’s worth highlighting that Bill Gates isn’t the only billionaire to own enormous plots of farmland. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is reported to own 420,000 acres of farmland.

The likely reason why Bezos receives fewer headlines about his larger plots of land is that Gates generally earns more headlines for his explorations into healthcare whereas Amazon founder Bezos adventures more into the space sector via his firm Blue Origin.

Why Are So Many Billionaires Buying Farmland?

With Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates all owning vast tracts of land across the United States it is natural to wonder whether they are simply looking to lock up their wealth in a tangible asset for the long-term given the scarcity of land or, as Gates suggests, if it’s to boost jobs and productivity.

The reality is most likely it’s not one or the other but both. Naturally, the billionaires have their own self-interests in mind but equally increasing labor and productivity goes hand-in-hand with their personal goals.

It’s also reasonable to assume that they want to be self-sufficient in the event of some major catastrophe. While the world has been a relatively stable place for the past 50 years, it’s not more than a couple of generations ago when world wars took place and, even in the 1960s, the potential for a major confrontation between Russia and the US escalated. 

No doubt, these billionaires are aware of the potential for something catastrophic, whether it’s a global confrontation or a health outbreak, necessitating that they become self-reliant and their vast plots of land afford them that luxury.

The Bottom Line

While some reports suggest that Bill Gates’s ownership of farmland has a sinister motive, the reality is he actually owns a relatively small portion of the overall agricultural land in the United States, and other billionaires own substantially larger tracts of land.

As a result of his comparably small ownership relative to the top 10 holders of farmland in the US, even if he did have some ulterior motive the impact is diluted by the amount of land under his control versus the total owned by families in aggregate, which comprises the vast majority of farmland.

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