• By The Financial District


The third-richest man on the planet, Bill Gates, is also one of the largest private owners of farmland in the US. He is known for supporting environmental innovation, but his farming plans have been secretive until now, Jo Harper reported for Deutsche Welle.

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In January, US magazine The Land Report — which tracks land transactions and produces an annual list of the 100 biggest US landowners — revealed that Bill and Melinda Gates have one of the largest portfolios of private farmland in the US, with assets totaling more than $690 million (€590 million).

Most things Gates gets involved with have been appropriated by one conspiracy theory or another, and this is no different. Some argue that Gates is buying up land to indulge in futuristic experiments in urban-dwelling or the creation of new food.

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But the reason for the move may in fact be more prosaic: It’s a good investment, with low volatility, not closely tied to the stock market, and can be deployed as an inflationary hedge. Gates has spent years diversifying his $129 billion fortune through Cascade Investments. Michael Larson runs the Washington-based asset manager, as well as supervising the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s $50 billion endowment.

"The arrangement is simple," The Wall Street Journal wrote in a 2014 profile. "Mr. Larson makes money, and Mr. Gates gives it away."

The Land Report gives top spot to Liberty Media Chair John Malone, who owns 2.2 million acres (8,094 square kilometers) of ranches and forests. CNN founder Ted Turner ranked third with 2 million acres of ranch land, while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is in 25th spot with ownership of 420,000 acres, mainly in west Texas.

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Gates is in 49th spot but rising. The magazine editor, Eric O’Keefe, was researching a purchase of 14,500 acres of prime Washington State farmland and found that the buyer was a small company in Louisiana, acting on behalf of Cascade Investments, the investment firm that manages most of the huge fortune belonging to Gates.

Gates’ holdings, it turns out, include large tracts in Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, California and a dozen other states. With the Washington State acreage and other recent additions to his portfolio, O’Keefe calculated that Gates owns at least 242,000 acres of American farmland, the largest holdings in Louisiana (69,071 acres), Arkansas (47,927 acres), and Arizona (25,750 acres).


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