Publications

- March 1, 2021: Vol. 8, Number 3

Farmer Bill: Seeking to diversify and innovate, Bill Gates goes big on U.S. farmland

by Mike Consol

Bill Gates is now the runaway leader as the largest private owner of farmland in the United States. According to an article published by The Land Report, the Microsoft co-founder, whose net worth now stands at $129 billion, has acquired the acreage through Cascade Investment, the investment vehicle and family office run by Michael Larson.

To date, Gates has acquired 242,000 acres of farmland, followed by the Offutt family (190,000 acres), Stewart and Lynda Resnick (190,000 acres), the Fanjul family (160,000 acres), and the Boswell family (150,000 acres).

Among other factors, Gates’ move into agriculture, which began years ago, appears to be a continuing effort to diversify a portfolio heavy in traditional digital technologies by adding agtech plays such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, plant-based vegan meat production companies. The Land Report says Gates invested millions into those companies with the aim of creating a more sustainable solution to traditional meat production. The Cascade subsidiary Cottonwood Ag Management is a member of Leading Harvest, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable farming. Leading Harvest and Farm Together have published a universal standard for sustainable agriculture.

What’s more, during 2020 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation established a new nonprofit dubbed Bill & Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations. That organization aims to accelerate efforts to provide small farmers in developing countries, many of whom are women, with access to the affordable tools and innovations needed to improve crop productivity, sustainability and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Gates Ag One, as it is more popularly known, aims to cultivate resilient, yield-enhancing seeds and facilitate the sharing of those breakthroughs with small farmers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

In explaining that emphasis, a statement from the organization said: “In two of the fastest growing regions of the world — sub-Saharan Africa, home to around 1 billion people, and South Asia, with a population of about 1.8 billion — approximately 60 percent of the population lives in rural areas that typically depend on smallholder agriculture for food and income.”

Another member of the Gates’ circle of investment vehicles is Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a cleantech venture capital fund launched in 2016 to fund green startups, including those that increase food production and decrease food waste in ways that reduce emissions. The amount of money flowing into the cleantech/agtech sector has soared to $16 billion in 2019 from $400 million in 2013, according to a PwC report published in 2020 — a fortyfold increase in investment dollars committed to the space.

According to The Land Report, the meat and dairy industries are on track to be the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, outpacing even the fossil fuel industry, which explains the strong emphasis on sustainable farming methods and agtech innovations.

Read the complete Land Report article at this link: https://bit.ly/3iCdFLs

 

Mike Consol (m.consol@irei.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

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