FARGO, ND (AP) — The sale of several thousand acres of prime North Dakota farmland to a group associated with Bill Gates has stirred emotions over a Depression-era law designed to protect family farms and has raised questions raise questions about whether the billionaire shares state rights. values.
Gates is considered the largest private owner of farmland in the country with some 269,000 acres in dozens of states, according to last year’s edition of the Land Report 100, an annual survey of the nation’s largest landowners. He owns less than 1 percent of the country’s total agricultural land.
The state attorney general has asked the trust that acquired the land in North Dakota to explain how it plans to use it to rules outlined in the archaic anti-corporate agriculture law of the state. It prohibits any corporation or limited liability company from owning or leasing farmland or ranch land, with some exceptions.
“I don’t know if the situation is as unstable as some have portrayed,” Republican Attorney General Drew Wrigley of North Dakota told The Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s taken off, it’s all over the planet, but it’s not me sticking a finger in Bill Gates’s eye. That’s not this.”
Meanwhile, the state’s agriculture commissioner, Republican Doug Goehring, told a North Dakota TV station that many people feel they are being exploited by the ultra-rich who buy land but don’t necessarily share the state’s values. About 2,100 acres (849.84 hectares) of land were sold in the deal, AgWeek reported.
Goehring, who is currently on a state-sponsored trade mission to the UK, did not immediately respond to a list of questions emailed by the AP.
“I’ve heard a lot about this from all over the state, it’s not even from that area,” Goehring said KFYR TV. “Those people are angry, but there are others who are furious about this.”
Karel V. Zehren, a spokesman for Gates’ investment company, declined to comment on the AP on Thursday.
Wrigley said the company’s investigation will be “obviously done” when his office is notified of farmland sales, in this case the Red River Trust’s $13.5 million purchase of real estate in two counties of the United States. wealthy potato growers in northeastern North Dakota, Campbell Farms. to Campbell Farms went unanswered.
“It’s meant to make everyone aware of what the property settlement is and what their intentions are with the land,” Wrigley said. “If it is in accordance with state law, the case will move forward. If not, they will be told to divest the land.”
Corporations are exempt from the law if the land is required “for residential or commercial development; the placement of buildings, factories, facilities, industrial parks, or similar corporate or industrial purposes of the corporation or limited liability company; or for any use that supports the of or ancillary to adjacent non-agricultural land for the benefit of both lots’, the law reads.
It is not the first test for a statute passed in 1932. A federal judge in 2018 ruled the law constitutionally after a conservative farmer group claimed it is limiting business options for producers and disrupting interstate commerce by banning out-of-state companies from engaging in North Dakota’s agricultural industry.
North Dakota Republican Administration Doug Burgum, a Former Microsoft Executive whose campaign received $100,000 from Microsoft co-founder Gates when Burgum first won in 2016, declined to comment on farmland sales. The Republican governor remained in the middle when asked for his opinion on the anti-corporate agriculture law that he and the legislature passed. expanded in 2019 to allow second cousins in the mix of ownership.
“The Governor strongly supports family farms and is open to discussions about reducing bureaucracy that puts farmers in North Dakota at a disadvantage relative to neighboring states and to ensure our farmers and ranchers can succeed and grow their businesses, enabling rural communities to thrive,” Burgum said spokesman Mike Nowatzki.