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Bill Gates is now the largest owner of farmland

Bill Gates has publicly spoken about the need for sustainable farming, reducing the use of fertilisers and emissions from cattle

Bill Gates

Bill Gates is known for many things. He co-founded Microsoft, where he went on to hold the positions of Chair, CEO, President and Chief Software Architect. He is also widely known for his philanthropy through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private charity, and also being the architect of the Giving Pledge.

Now the almost US$171 million sale of 5,868 hectares of farmland in Eastern Washington has uncovered that the purchase is for Bill Gates, which makes the 65-year-old from Seattle the largest private owner of farmland in the US.

Bill and Melinda Gates own 97,934 hectares of farmland, according to The Land Report, with the largest block of land bought in 2017 from the Toronto-based Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. Gates’ largest farmlands are in Louisiana and Arkansas where he owns a combined total of 47,347 hectares. His farmland purchases started as early as 2014 when he already had at least 40,000 hectares of farmland.The purchases have largely been made through Cascade Investment, which is operated by Michael Larson. Larson was hired in 1994 by Bill and Melinda Gates to diversify the couple’s personal portfolio away from his 45 per cent stake in Microsoft while maintaining comparable or better returns. Larson has also been reported to have bought the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Four Seasons in San Francisco.

Bill Gates has publicly spoken about the dangers of climate change, calling it a global disaster.

“We have only some of the tools we need to eliminate the world’s greenhouse gases. We need breakthroughs in the way we generate and store clean electricity, grow food, make things, move around and heat and cool our buildings, so we can do all these things without adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere,” he wrote in a blog.

Gates clearly believes owners can better use farmland and has been an advocate for innovative sustainable farming. He also has been vocal on the need for a solution to reduce the amount of methane cattle give off when they belch and pass gas.

“The agriculture, forestry, and land use sector … is responsible for 24 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions – just one percentage point less than electricity,” he wrote in his blog post titled ‘We should discuss soil as much as we talk about coal’.

“Here’s a mindblowing fact: there’s more carbon in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined. That’s not a big deal when left to its own devices. But when soil gets disturbed — like it does when you convert a forest into cropland — all that stored carbon gets released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. That’s one reason why deforestation alone is responsible for 11 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. (Another reason is that forests and grasslands are natural carbon sinks. Clearing them reduces the planet’s capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the air.)“The microbes in soil can also create greenhouse gases when they come into contact with fertiliser. Synthetic fertilisers revolutionised how we feed the world, but they release a powerful greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide when broken down by those microbes. Natural fertilisers like manure aren’t any better, because they release greenhouse gases as they decompose.”

Gates is financially behind Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), which is trying to reduce the amount of emissions created in food production, though such methods as replacing fertilisers. BEV has invested in a company called Pivot Bio that has genetically modified microbes to provide plants with the nitrogen they need without the excess greenhouse gases that synthetic alternatives produce.

Gates asked, “What if we could fertilise plants without releasing so much harmful nitrous oxide into the air?”

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