North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley authorized billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates’ purchase of large swathes of the state’s farmland Tuesday.
The Epoch Times reported on Wrigley’s approval of the purchase Friday, citing a copy of a letter from the Republican attorney general’s office.
With nearly 270,000 acres under his ownership as of last year, Bill Gates is the single largest private owner of farmland in the United States.
Gates began his purchase of the 2,100 acres of farmland in North Dakota in November last year under the name of Texas-based Red River Trust, an entity linked to him, the Epoch Times reported.
The purchased land sits near the state’s borders with Minnesota and Canada.
The volume of the purchase soon drew eyebrows from state authorities and the general public in North Dakota.
Under state law, corporations and limited liability companies are prohibited from possessing farmland or ranchland, although individual trusts may own such land, provided they lease it to farmers.
On June 21, the Corporate Farming Enforcement Division of the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to Red River Trust demanding that it state its reasons for purchasing such a large amount of farmland.
The letter warned that should Gates be found in violation of the law prohibiting corporate farming, he could face fines up to $100,000.
Ordinary citizens were also concerned by Gates’ purchase, KFYR-TV in Bismarck reported on June 22.
“I’ve gotten a big earful on this from clear across the state, it’s not even from that neighborhood,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring told the news station.
“Those people are upset, but there are others that are just livid about this,” he said.
Then on Wednesday, Kerrie Helm, a paralegal with the Corporate Farming Enforcement Division, sent a letter to attorney Matthew L. Thompson of the Vogel Law Firm in North Dakota, which represented Red River Trust.
In the letter, Helm thanked Thompson for replying promptly to the queries posed by the attorney general’s office, according to the Epoch Times, which obtained a copy.
The letter said the attorney general’s office had determined that “Red River Trust’s current ownership and lease of the land to Campbell Farms, a General Partnership, is in compliance” with the law.
“Accordingly, we are deeming our inquiry file inactive,” the letter said.
Gates’ purchase of the land has given rise to a broad range of speculation over what the billionaire could do with it.
Some have expressed concerns that the billionaire could use his control of the farmland to hurt local farmers and ranchers by using the position of power he gains from the purchase to prevent ranchers from allowing their cattle to graze on the large property.
Gates had said last year that his intent in buying up farmland was to help with the production of biofuels and work on improving seed production.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum used to work as an executive for Microsoft before he entered politics, according to The Associated Press. The wire service reported that when the Republican entered politics, Gates poured $100,000 into his campaign.
Burgum did not respond to AP’s request for comment.
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