North Dakota’s purchase of agricultural land linked to Gates stirred sentiment

FARGO, ND (AP) — The sale of prime North Dakota farmland to a group tied to Bill Gates has stirred sentiment over a Depression-era law to protect family farms and raised questions about whether the billionaire state share the values.

The state attorney general has asked the trust that acquired the land to explain how it will use it to meet the rules set forth in the state’s old anti-corporate agriculture law. It prohibits all corporations or limited liability companies from owning or leasing a farm or ranch, with a few exceptions.

“I don’t know that this is quite a volatile situation as some have depicted,” North Dakota Republican Attorney General Drew Wrigley told the Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s off, it’s all over the planet, but it’s not me putting a finger in Bill Gates’ eye. It’s not the same.”

Meanwhile, Republican Doug Gohring, the state’s agriculture commissioner, told a North Dakota TV station that many people who feel they are being exploited buy land but don’t share the state’s values. Gohring, who is currently on a state-sponsored trade mission to the United Kingdom, did not immediately respond to a list of questions emailed by the AP.

“I’ve gotten a lot of attention from across the state, it’s not even from that neighborhood,” Gohring told KFYR-TV. “Those people are upset, but there are others who are worried about it.”

Charles V. Zaren, a spokesman for Gates’ investment firm, declined to comment to the AP on Thursday.

Wrigley said the investigation into corporate farming is “definitely” when his office is notified of the sale of agricultural land, in this case from two counties to Campbell Farm, the wealthy northeastern North Dakota potato grower of the Red River Trust. $13.5 million purchase of property in Phone calls to Campbell Farms remained unanswered.

“That means getting everyone up to speed on what the ownership system is and what their intentions are for the land,” Wrigley said. “If it complies with state law, the matter goes ahead. If not, they are informed that they will have to disinvest the land.”

Corporations are exempt from the law if the land is needed “for residential or commercial development”; the location of buildings, plants, facilities, industrial parks, or similar business or industrial purposes of the corporation or limited liability company; or both for ancillary or ancillary use of adjacent non-agricultural land for the benefit of the land parcel,” the law reads.

This is not the first test for a law passed in 1932. In 2018 a federal judge struck down the constitutional law after a conservative agriculture group argued that it limits business options for growers and interferes with interstate commerce by barring out-of-state corporations. Getting involved in North Dakota’s agricultural industry.

North Dakota Republican Gov. 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 the sale of the farm. The Republican governor interrupted when asked his opinion about the anti-corporate agriculture law, which he and the Legislature expanded in 2019 to allow second cousins ​​in the ownership mix.

“The governor strongly supports family farms and is open to discussion about cutting the red tape that puts North Dakota farmers at a disadvantage compared to neighboring states and ensuring that our farms and farmers can be successful and help rural communities thrive.” spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.

According to last year’s edition of Land Report 100, an annual survey of the nation’s largest landlords, Gates is considered the largest private owner of agricultural land in the country, with nearly 269,000 acres in dozens of states. He owns less than 1 percent of the total agricultural land in the country.

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