• A $13.5 million purchase of a North Dakota potato farm is drawing outrage and legal scrutiny.
  • The buyer, Red River Trust, is tied to billionaire Bill Gates, the largest farmland owner in the US.
  • State law prohibits corporations, LLCs, and trusts from farming or ranching activities.

Billionaire philanthropist and America's largest farmland owner Bill Gates has apparently bought a potato farm in North Dakota, and local residents aren't too happy about it.

"I've gotten a big earful on this from clear across the state, it's not even from that neighborhood," Agricultural Commissioner Doug Goehring told the local NBC affiliate. "Those people are upset, but there are others that are just livid about this."

The $13.5 million sale in November of roughly 2,100 acres in the northeast corner of the state was first reported and sleuthed-out by AgWeek's Mikkel Pates earlier this month.

"Nobody involved in the deal seems eager to talk about it," Pates wrote, but found public records to make the connection between Gates and the buyer, Red River Trust.

Then, on Tuesday, the North Dakota Attorney General's Office sent a letter to the Red River Trust notifying trustee Peter Headley of a Depression-era rule barring companies, LLCs, and trusts from farming and ranching activities in the state.

"Our office needs to confirm how your company uses this land and whether this use meets any of the statutory exceptions," the letter said.

Representatives of Gates did not immediately respond to messages from Insider requesting comment.

At about $6,000 per acre, the potato farm costs roughly half of what Gates reportedly spent on the highly coveted soil closer to his home in Washington.

But those are just a portion of the vast holdings Gates and his ex-wife Melinda own from sea to shining sea.

According to the Land Report in 2021, the Gateses had 242,000 acres of farmland, 1,234 acres or recreational land, and 25,750 acres of land that was in transition from farmland to residential and commercial use (think suburban development).

The North Dakota purchase would put those total holdings at more than 270,000 acres, though it is not clear how the property is being divided following Bill and Melinda's divorce last year.

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