Bill Gates North Dakota land purchase to go through
The North Dakota Attorney General has approved the sale and continued farming of about 2,100 acres of North Dakota farmland to a trust reportedly connected to billionaire Bill Gates.
AgWeek reported in early June that Grafton-based Campbell Farms, owned in part by a former state legislator, had sold the land to Red River Trust, which shares a Lenexa, Kansas, mailing address with Cottonwood Ag, or Cottonwood Farms, and Oak River Farms/Midwest, which are reported to have ties to Bill Gates.
A person who answered the phone for Campbell Farms but chose not to share his name, said that Campbell Farms has “full control of the land” and “it’s business as usual.”
“William T. (‘’Bill”) Campbell, a married individual, Gregory T. (‘Greg”) Campbell, a married individual and Thomas S. (“Tom”) Campbell, a single individual and former state senator, are the ”grantors“ (sellers) of the land, according to AgWeek.
The unnamed source said that Campbell Farms grows potatoes, and that they “work with” Oak River Farms, which is a farming cooperative reportedly connected to Bill Gates.
“I have no idea what it is with Bill Gates. I’ve never met the guy. None of the owners of Campbell Farms knows Bill Gates. We’ve got potatoes and wheat in the ground and we’re farming as normal. We have full control over the land,” said the source. The land sale consisted strictly of farmland – no homes or outbuildings, said the source.
The North Dakota Attorney General sent a letter to Red River Trust stating that “all corporations or limited liability companies are prohibited from owning or leasing farmland or ranchland (in North Dakota) and from engaging in farming or ranching.”
Restrictions on trusts also exist, said the letter.
The AG’s letter said that if the land sale were found to be in violation of North Dakota’s “anti corporate farming” law that it would have to divest itself of the land and face up to $100,000 in fines.
On June 29, 2022, the North Dakota attorney general wrote to Matthew Thompson, the attorney representing Red River Trust, to say that Red River Trust’s ownership of the land, and its leasing back to Campbell Farms is indeed in compliance with state law, and that the file would now be placed on inactive status.
Thompson had argued to the state AG that the sale of the land (from Campbell farms to Red River Trust) and then Campbell Farm’s leasing the land back from Red River Trust is legal under the state’s anti corporate farming law because under North Dakota Century Code 10-06.1-09, “a nonprofit organization OR a trust for the benefit of the individual.” In this case, the land is a “trust for the benefit of an individual,” said the attorney.
North Dakota Grain Growers director Barry Kingsbury, who grows sugar beets, potatoes, dry beans and wheat is friends with the Campbell family who sold the land and is now leasing it back.
He doesn’t know exactly where the recently purchased parcels of land are. “Most people here are pretty spread out,” he said.
He believes that Campbell Farms “didn’t sell the whole farm.”
The Red River Valley, where the land in question lies, is very rich, and irrigation is rarely needed, said Kingsbury.
His group, the North Dakota Grain Gowers Association does not have policy opposing corporate ownership of land.
“I guess it’s still a free market,” said Kingsbury. “If Bill Gates is the one who comes in here and has the money to buy it. So be it. The majority of land around here is sold to other farmers or a family member. I think the philosophy of our board members right now is ‘let the free market work.’ They should have the right to do as they want. I hope we don’t get to the point that it’s bad enough we’d change our minds.”
Kingsbury doesn’t worry about Gates buying the land to “shut it down” mostly because he doesn’t believe that the number of acres owned by Gates is enough to affect food production on a worldwide scale.
Is Bill Gates anti-agriculture? Ironically, he is reportedly the largest holder of American farmland – about 270,000 acres, according to the AP.
“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,” said Bill Gates in a 2021 interview with MIT Technology Review.
According to Beef Central, Gates is invested in range of ‘synthetic meat’ startups including Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Memphis Meats and Hampton Creek Foods.
Ellendale area rancher Ryan Brokaw, a member of North Dakota Farmers Union, does have concerns about the idea of corporate ownership of land in his home state.
Brokaw, who lives near the South Dakota line, and is not familiar with terrain near Grafton or the family who sold it, said he’s always appreciated North Dakota Farmers Union for working against corporate farming.
“Corporations have more money than the regular small farmers. We can’t compete with them for land. It makes it so the small family farms have a tough go,” he said.
Brokaw raises cattle and grows crops for forage to feed his cattle. He said Hutterite colonies in his area which are shielded from the corporate farming law, perhaps as nonprofit organizations, tend to often be the top bidder on local land that sells, making it difficult for young ranchers to make a start in a business with an extremely slim profit margin, if any at all.
“What I worry about is young people starting. If we don’t start getting some young people ranching and farming, the world isn’t going to be able to feed itself. There won’t be anyone left to do the work,” he said.
Brokaw said he believes smaller, family farms and ranches tend to more carefully and sustainably care for their land. He also points out that family farmers and ranchers tend to shop locally and support their communities, as opposed to bigger interests who often buy supplies – fertilizer, steel posts, wire, machinery, etc. from the cheapest seller, who might be outside of the home community.
If there are no younger people coming back to these farms and ranches, then all of the sudden, you just have mega farms. The next thing will be bigger and bigger farms which isn’t good for our communities.” Brokaw said country of origin labeling for beef and beef checkoff reform could both help return profitability to the cattle industry. Without policy changes, income potential for young cattle producers is extremely limited.
“That’s what scares the hell out of me. I worry about my kids and their kids, and who the hell is going to feed them. There won’t be many people left around here,” he said.