Goin’ once, goin’ twice. Sold to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This week, Farmland Reserve, a company with ties to the Mormon Church, was the highest bidder for 33,000 acres of land in Benton County, Washington. The Mormon group’s $209 million bid beat out the second-highest bid, which came from a group linked to Bill Gates.
Sidebar: If you didn’t already know, Bill Gates is the top farmland owner in the U.S.
Back to the program: This land is the center of a fraud scandal involving rancher Cody Easterday. You may remember back in April when the rancher pled guilty to charges placed against him by Tyson Foods.
Easterday allegedly defrauded the company of $244 million in costs for buying and feeding ghost cattle. Ghost cattle = cattle that don’t exist. In addition to losing his farm and ranch, he also faces up to 20 years in prison.
The land sale isn’t finalized until a judge hits the gavel, expected to happen in August.
What’s a billionaire technology titan to do when he’s looking to diversify his mega net worth?
Head to the farm.
The Land Report revealed that Bill and Melinda Gates are the largest private farmland owners in the United States. The couple owns 242,000 acres across 19 states with the largest stakes in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona.
The backstory: The land portfolio has been pieced together over the past several decades by Gates’ personal wealth manager and director of holdings for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal was to diversify Gates’ investments away from tech holdings, a majority of his portfolio.
But when it comes to agriculture, it’s not Gates’ first rodeo.
Gates and his foundation have made headlines for investing +$100 million in international agriculture development programs. He’s also become a notable early-stage investor in a wide array of agrifood startups like AgBiome, Apeel Sciences, Stellapps, Pivot Bio, and more.
+ Also on the ‘Land Owners Leaderboard’? The ‘Wonderful Company’ owners, Stewart and Lynda Resnick. Known for their pomegranate and pistachio brand, the couple has racked up 190,000 acres.