A major farmland purchase reportedly made by a trust linked to Bill Gates is being investigated by the North Dakota attorney general's office. The $13.5 million farmland purchase by the trust connected to the Microsoft billionaire potentially may have violated the state's corporate farming laws.
Red River Trust purchased six parcels of land in Pembina County for $13.5 million last November. According to records, Red River Trust acquired the farmland from Campbell Farms – a potato farm founded in 1978 in Grafton, North Dakota.
"Public deeds show the transaction totals about $13.5 million, with a rough average price in two counties of $6,400 per acre," AG Week reported. "Pembina County transfers break down to about $6,600 per acre. The Walsh County documents are complicated by river boundaries, but the sale price calculates to about $6,000."
On Tuesday, the office of the attorney general of North Dakota sent a letter to Red River Trust to determine how the company plans to use the farmland and make sure that there are no violations of the state's corporate farming laws.
Attorney General Drew Wrigley addressed the letter to trustee Peter Headley and the trust's office in Lenexa, Kansas.
"In North Dakota, under N.D.C.C. ch. 10-06.1, all corporations or limited liability companies (LLC) are prohibited from owning or leasing farmland or ranchland, and from engaging in farming or ranching," Wrigley wrote. "In addition, the law places certain limitations on the ability of trusts to own farmland or ranchland."
"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," the letter stated.
The trust linked to Gates has 30 days to respond to the letter regarding the purchase of about 2,100 acres.
Wrigley warned that if the state determines that the trust committed a violation, it would be required to divest itself of the property within one year and pay fines of as much as $100,000.
North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner Doug Goehring told KFYR-TV, "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."
The outlet noted, "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."
Bill Gates is the biggest private farmland owner in the United States, according to a report released last year. As of January 2021, Gates owned an estimated 242,000 acres of farmland, based on an analysis by the Land Report.
In February 2021, Gates said, "All rich nations should move to 100% synthetic beef" to combat climate change. The software developer said people "can get used to the taste difference" and "you can sort of change the [behavior of] people or use regulation to totally shift the demand."
Bill Gates has a net worth of more than $122 billion and is the fourth-richest person in the world, according to Forbes.