North Dakota AG demands trust linked to Bill Gates justify its six-parcel land grab

A controversial farmland purchase by a trust allegedly connected to Microsoft co-founder and would-be land baron Bill Gates has come to the attention of North Dakota’s attorney general because the transaction may have violated state law.

Last November, the Red River Trust bought six parcels in Pembina County in the northeast part of the state. The 2,000-acre transaction with Campbell Farms reportedly totaled $13.5 million.

On Tuesday, the office of AG Drew Wrigley sent a letter to the trustee of the legal entity requesting more information. Citing the relevant state statute, Wrigley explained that “all corporations or limited liability companies (LLC) are prohibited from owning or leasing farmland or ranchland. In addition, the law places certain limitations on the ability of trusts to own farmland or ranchland.”

The Republican AG, who is running for reelection this year, gives the trust the opportunity to explain whether the sale qualifies for certain exceptions under state law and detail how it plans to use the land.

Wrigley warned that if authorities determine that a state-law violation occurred, the trust will have to divest itself of the property within one year and cough up as much as $100,000 in penalties.

Red River has 30 days to respond.

“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,” North Dakota’s Agricultural Commissioner Doug Goehring told the Valley News.

“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,” the news outlet added.

“Regardless of any land ownership status, Campbell Farms, on their website, appear to continue their potato farming, including on the land involved in the deal. The Campbells did not make themselves available to discuss the details of the sale, including whether there were lease-back arrangements,” AG Week noted.

Gates, the fourth richest person in the world according to Forbes, is reportedly the largest private farmland owner in America with about 270,000 acres in his portfolio. The motivation for these acquisitions by the billionaire vaccine champion and climate change activist who has positioned himself as something along the lines of a healthcare expert is not entirely clear.

In February 2021, Gates told MIT Technology Review that “I do think all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef. You can get used to the taste difference, and the claim is they’re going to make it taste even better over time. Eventually, that green premium is modest enough that you can sort of change the [behavior of] people or use regulation to totally shift the demand.”

In a 2015 blog post, while acknowledging that “meat is a great source of high-quality proteins,” Gates called upon industrialized nations to cut back by about half their meat consumption because of climate change. He also wrote at the time that “I’m also hopeful about the future of meat substitutes.”

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