You think of Bill Gates as more “blue chip” than “blue collar,” but the Microsoft co-founder and his wife, Melinda, made headlines recently when The Land Report concluded that they are the largest private farmland owners in the U.S. And wait until you hear how much farmland the couple owns through their Cascade Investment holding company.
Based on the last report, the couple had at least 100,000 acres of farmland. However, according to The Land Report, the figure is “currently more than twice that amount, which means Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, has an alter ego: Farmer Bill, the guy who owns more farmland than anyone else in America.”
How much farmland does Bill Gates own?
According to The Land Report, Gates owns 242,000 acres of farmland, in addition to 25,750 acres of transitional land and 1,234 acres of recreational land, for a grand total of 268,984 acres.
The land is spread out through the South, Midwest, and West — with holdings in 19 states. The couple has the most land in Louisiana and Arkansas with 69,071 acres and 47,927 acres, respectively. Their lowest holding is in New Mexico with just one acre.
Why Bill Gates is buying farmland
As MarketWatch and Forbes note, there’s no telling why Gates and his wife are investing in so much land. A Cascade Investment spokesperson declined to comment on the land purchase. The spokesperson did say that Cascade is “very supportive of sustainable farming.”
Sustainable farming is also important to the couple’s Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. One of the foundation’s goals is “to support country-led inclusive agricultural transformation across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” according to its website.
In January 2020, the foundation also announced a new agriculture nonprofit called Gates Ag One. The goal is to help “smallholder farmers adapt to climate change and make food production in low- and middle-income countries more productive, resilient, and sustainable,” the St. Louis Business Journal reported.
How much Bill Gates has spent on farmland
The total amount of money Gates has spent on farmland isn't public knowledge, but at least one transaction is on record. Gates and his wife paid almost $171 million for 14,500 acres of farmland in the Horse Heaven Hills of Benton County, Wash., according to The Land Report.
That works out to about $11,790 per acre. If we assume that’s the average price of all of their land purchases, then they would have paid more than $2.8 billion on the 242,000 acres of farmland. That’s just a guess, of course, but bear in mind that Forbes currently pegs Gates's net worth at $121.7 billion.
What else Bill Gates invests in
According to a June 2020 SEC filing, the top five holdings in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s trust portfolio are the Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. (39.9 million shares, worth more than $7.1 billion), Waste Management, Inc. (18.6 million shares, worth more than $1.9 billion), Canadian National Railroad Company (17.1 million shares, worth more than $1.5 billion), Caterpillar, Inc. (11.3 million shares, worth more than $1.4 billion), and Walmart, Inc. (11.6 million shares, worth more than $1.3 billion).