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The controversy over Bill Gates becoming the largest private farmland owner in the US

Bill Gates is perhaps a tech billionaire — however he and his spouse Melinda French Gates, who’re in the strategy of divorcing, are additionally two of the largest private farmland homeowners in the United States.

Recent studies detailing the extent of the Gates’ land possession have prompted criticism from some environmental advocates and farmers, who say there appears to be a contradiction between his public environmental advocacy and his private funding technique.

Others have speculated the farmland purchases could also be part of the billionaire’s general local weather efforts. Bill Gates has stated there’s no connection, both means. But the new particulars on the purchases — and the dialogue surrounding them — function an vital reminder that billionaires can retailer their huge wealth in all types of sudden locations, and that there can typically be a pressure between their private investments and their extra publicized philanthropic work.

On Tuesday, NBC News reported that the Gateses had acquired greater than 269,000 acres of farm in the United States in the previous 10 years. Those purchases, made with the assist of the Washington-based agency Cascade Investment and quite a lot of shell firms, contains farmland in almost 20 states that domesticate greens similar to carrots, soybeans, and potatoes (a few of which find yourself in McDonald’s French fries). These particulars come after the agriculture outlet the Land Report reported in January that the tech billionaire and his spouse had been the nation’s high private farmland homeowners in the nation. An NBC News evaluation additionally recognized the Gates as the largest farmland owner in the US.

Almost 300,000 acres is numerous land for one household or private particular person to personal, however it’s nonetheless only a small a part of the estimated 911 million acres of farmland in the US. While Gates seems to be considered one of the largest private farmland homeowners in the nation, he’s removed from alone in wanting to include farmland into his funding technique.

As Mother Jones lately reported, different giant monetary corporations have sought to buy agricultural land, too, even when they haven’t any involvement in the precise, day-to-day farming operations. Land Report, the outlet that named Gates the high private farm owner, notes a number of different households that declare properly over 100,000 acres. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that about 30 % of US farmland is rented out by homeowners who function landlords and aren’t concerned in farming, like Gates.

All this to say, it shouldn’t be stunning that Bill Gates, considered one of the wealthiest individuals in the world, makes investments to serve his personal monetary pursuits.

“It’s a good investment,” Johnathan Hladik, a farmer and the coverage director for the Center on Rural Affairs. “It’s smart, it’s stable, and especially over the past couple decades, it seems to be going up.”

Still, Gates’s landownership has attracted explicit consideration as a result of the billionaire has tried to make a reputation for himself in local weather advocacy. Gates is presently selling a e-book on the topic, and has positioned himself and the Gates Foundation as a frontrunner in what the way forward for agriculture ought to appear to be, particularly in regard to expertise.

One Georgia farmer and environmental advocate, John Quarterman, informed NBC that whereas he anticipated that Gates would encourage extra sustainable practices after shopping for farmland close by, his acquisition of that land didn’t change a lot. And the National Farmers Union has advised that the rising variety of non-farmer homeowners like Gates shopping for up farmland — and renting it out — may result in practices that harm the atmosphere: Short-term farmers who hire land are much less more likely to take long-term conservation steps, the group argues, and non-farmer homeowners don’t have the expertise to “understand the importance of protecting natural resources.”

Others have floated the reverse concept: that Gates’s huge funding in farmland may need a direct relationship to his different local weather efforts. Newsweek, for example, lately advised his land possession “may be connected to his investments in climate change agricultural developments and Impossible Foods,” although it didn’t supply a lot help for that premise.

While Bill Gates has beforehand tried to separate his Gates Foundation work on the local weather from his private investments, Cascade Investment has defended its document on sustainability.

In response to criticism, a spokesperson for Cascade Investment emphasised that it had enrolled all its farmland in a program by Leading Harvest, a nonprofit that releases requirements for sustainability centered on biodiversity, conservation, and soil. “Cascade plans to continue to evaluate and implement new initiatives that will improve the overall sustainability of its farmland portfolio,” the spokesperson informed Recode.

More broadly, Gates, and different rich patrons of farmland, have additionally been criticized for contributing to the focus of land possession. Because they will normally make greater bids than what native farmers can afford, fewer individuals find yourself proudly owning their very own farmland. As University of New Mexico professor Nick Estes wrote for the Guardian in April, this outcomes “in a greater push for monocultures and more intensive industrial farming techniques to generate greater returns,” whereas Indigenous individuals and small farmers “are more cautious with the use of land.”

The points at play transcend what items of land Bill Gates has purchased. “People tend to look either for the salvation story — he’s doing this to save the planet — or they look for the opposite — you know, it’s just another greedy landowner,” Bruce Sherrick, a University of Illinois Urbana Champaign agriculture professor, informed Recode. Sherrick, who’s on the board of Leading Harvest, says that Gates-owned farms are taking a constructive step by following Leading Harvest’s requirements.

Gates himself made a degree to distinguish his local weather advocacy and his investments. In a Reddit AMA in March, the billionaire appeared to attempt to separate his local weather advocacy and his private investments when requested about his wealth of land. “My investment group chose to do this. It is not connected to climate. The agriculture sector is important,” he stated in the publish, earlier than including a extra basic remark about deforestation and biofuels.

But no matter Gates would possibly want, many observers can’t fairly separate the two issues. For them, Bill Gates the environmentalist can also be Bill Gates the business farmland owner, they usually assume the two roles are linked even when Gates doesn’t think about them to be.

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