North Dakota’s attorney general has decided that the sale of a few thousand acres of prime farmland to a group with ties to Bill Gates is legal because the land will be leased back to farmers. This is in line with a law from the 1930s that was meant to protect family farms.
The state’s Republican Attorney General, Drew Wrigley, looked into the land sale and sent out a letter on Wednesday saying that the deal was legal under an old law against corporate farming. The law says that corporations and limited liability companies can’t own farmland or ranchland. However, an individual trust can own farmland or ranchland as long as it is leased to farmers.
When the land was bought, it brought up legal questions and worries that the ultra-rich landowners did not share the state’s values.
According to the Land Report 100, an annual list of the country’s largest landowners, Gates owns about 269,000 acres (108,860 hectares) of farmland in dozens of states. This makes him the largest private owner of farmland in the country. The co-founder of Microsoft owns less than 1% of all the farmland in the country.
Campbell Farms, a wealthy potato farm in northeastern North Dakota, sold land in two counties to Gates’ company, Red River Trust, for $13.5 million. The land is in two counties.
In a strange move, the Campbell family registered their farming business as the Red River Trust with the North Dakota secretary of state in February. This is the same name as Gates’ company. But an attorney for Gates’ firm wrote to the attorney general’s office to say that the Campbells registered the name without his knowledge.
When asked for a comment, the Campbells didn’t answer right away.