Bill Gates wins legal battle to buy huge swath of North Dakota farmland despite local outcry

A controversial land purchase in North Dakota by billionaire Bill Gates has reportedly been approved, despite concerns from farmers “across the state” that they’re being exploited by the uber-wealthy.

Gates owns a firm, Red River Trust, that purchased 2,100 acres of North Dakota farmland for $13.5 million.

Following the purchase, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley stepped in to determine whether the purchase complied with a Depression-era law that prohibits corporations and limited liability companies from owning farmland.

“In North Dakota … all corporations or limited liability companies (LLC) are prohibited from owning or leasing farmland or ranchland, and from engaging in farming or ranching. In addition, the law places certain limitations on the ability of trusts to own farmland or ranchland,” he wrote in a letter to Red River Trust.

“The Corporate or Limited Liability Company Farming Law has certain exceptions, such as permitting registered family farms or allowing the use of the land for business purposes. … Our office needs to confirm how your company uses this land and whether this use meets any of the statutory exceptions, such as the business purpose exception, so that we may close this case and file it in our inactive files.”

(Source: North Dakota Attorney General)

The law is “designed to protect family farms,” according to Insider.

And indeed, in a statement issued to local station KFYR following the purchase, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring suggested that family farmers “across the state” were worried about how Gates’ purchase would affect them.

“Commissioner Goehring says there’s nothing illegal or unlawful about selling land to a billionaire, but many people feel they are being exploited by the ultra-rich who buy land in North Dakota but do not necessarily share the state’s values,” according to KFYR.

“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 said in his own words.

But despite both these concerns and the concerns about the law, Wrigley wound up approving the purchase Wednesday.

“Bill Gates has been cleared to proceed with the purchase of a North Dakota potato farm after the state’s attorney general said it complied with an archaic Depression-era law. This is because the land will be leased back to farmers,” Insider reported.

Notice the unnecessary and highly biased use of the term “archaic.” It’s not clear why it’s archaic for there to be a law protecting family farmers.

Regardless, evidently, Red River Trust plans to lease the land to farmers, albeit with certain yet-unknown rules and stipulations attached.

“The sale will add around 2,100 acres to the 242,000 acres of farmland that Gates owned, as of 2021,” according to Insider.

Many Americans for their part remain concerned about billionaires like Gates purchasing all this land:

What’s clear, some critics argue, is that Gates is a hypocrite. Why? Because his climate change doom and gloom fearmongering appears to strongly contradict his purchases and leasing-out of so much land.

“[T]he National Farmers Union has suggested that the growing number of non-farmer owners like Gates buying up farmland — and renting it out — could lead to practices that hurt the environment: Short-term farmers who rent land are less likely to take long-term conservation steps, the organization argues, and non-farmer owners don’t have the experience to ‘understand the importance of protecting natural resources,'” Vox reported last year.

There’s also the issue of the big guy pushing the little guy out of the market.

“Gates and other wealthy buyers of farmland have also been criticized for contributing to the concentration of land ownership. Because they can usually make higher bids than what local farmers can afford, fewer people end up owning their own farmland,” according to Vox.

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