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Spilling Bill's Beans: The Tech Billionaire's Hidden Farming Empire

CEO Khai Intela
When we think of tech billionaires like Bill Gates, images of Silicon Valley, innovation, and high-tech gadgets come to mind. But did you know that Gates has also quietly built a vast farming empire in...

When we think of tech billionaires like Bill Gates, images of Silicon Valley, innovation, and high-tech gadgets come to mind. But did you know that Gates has also quietly built a vast farming empire in the heart of Nebraska? In this article, we'll delve into the intriguing world of Bill Gates' secret farmland purchases, shedding light on the hidden connections and financial maneuvers behind the scenes.

A Tangled Web of Ownership

Nebraska is home to several farms with unassuming names like Willowdale Farms, Merrick County Farms, and Dove Haven Ranch. What many locals don't realize is that these seemingly unrelated farms all have one thing in common: They are owned by Bill Gates. In fact, Gates has spent over $113 million acquiring farmland in Nebraska alone over the past six years, making him the top buyer in terms of money spent.

Gates' farmland holdings are spread across 19 counties in Nebraska, totaling around 20,000 acres. The largest chunk of land, about 8,500 acres, is located in Holt County. However, what makes his ownership even more intriguing is the complex network of shell companies and LLCs that he has used to obscure the true extent of his land holdings.

The Mystery of Mt. Edna Farms

One of the key players in Gates' farmland acquisitions is a company called Mt. Edna Farms. In 2017, Mt. Edna Farms bought a massive chunk of land, including all 22,830 acres of Nebraska farmland owned by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. At the time, the buyer's identity remained a mystery.

But now, the truth has come to light: Bill Gates is the man behind the purchase. However, the financial details of the transaction and the massive loan he has taken out against the farmland have remained publicly unknown until recently.

Bill Gates on stage during the Windows 95 Launch Event Then-Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates sits on stage during the Windows 95 Launch Event on Aug. 24, 1995, on the company’s campus in Redmond, Wash. Gates co-founded Microsoft with Paul Allen in 1975. He was long considered to be the world’s richest private citizen. (Associated Press photo)

The Buy-Borrow-Die Strategy

So, why has Gates invested so heavily in Nebraska farmland? While some might assume it is purely for agricultural purposes, the truth goes much deeper. Gates is not just purchasing the land; he's also using it as collateral to borrow staggering amounts of money. In fact, he recently took out two loans totaling $700 million against his Nebraska farmland.

This strategy, known as the "buy-borrow-die" method, is commonly used by ultra-wealthy individuals like Gates. By borrowing against their assets, they can access substantial funds without generating taxable income through asset sales. For Gates, this strategy allows him to enjoy the benefits of his wealth while minimizing his tax liability.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett during a Fox Business interview Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett speak during a Fox Business interview during the 2017 Berkshire Hathaway convention in Omaha. That same year, Gates, through an investment company and a tangled web of limited liability corporations, bought more than 20,000 acres of Nebraska farmland in 19 different counties. (Photo by Nati Harnik, Associated Press)

Beneath the Surface: Water and Wells

Apart from the land itself, Gates' ownership includes access to the valuable groundwater beneath the Nebraska farmland. Through the acquisition of 191 existing wells, Gates has secured a vital resource for irrigation, increasing the value of the land for both farmers and investors.

But gaining access to groundwater in Nebraska is tightly regulated by natural resource districts (NRDs). While Gates owns the land, he still needs to obtain permits to use the water. The NRDs treat Gates no differently than any other landowner, ensuring that his use of the water complies with existing rules.

Impact on Local Farmers

While Gates' farmland purchases may go unnoticed by many in Nebraska, they have raised concerns among some locals. The arrival of large outside investors like Gates limits the opportunities for small farmers to break into the industry, creating challenges for future generations.

"I think it’s going to cause a lot of problems for future generations to get young people started," said Bill Tielke, chair of the Holt County board. "It’s getting pretty hard to compete with these guys that are coming here buying this land now."

As Gates continues to expand his farming empire in Nebraska, the long-term implications for the local agricultural community remain to be seen.

Bill Gates during the International Fund For Agricultural Development Annual Governing Council Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates waits to be interviewed during the International Fund For Agricultural Development Annual Governing Council in Rome in 2012. The Gates Foundation runs programs tied to sustainable agriculture. (Associated Press Photo)

In conclusion, the story of Bill Gates' farmland purchases in Nebraska is a fascinating glimpse into the hidden world of a tech billionaire's agricultural investments. From complex corporate structures to the strategic use of loans, Gates has quietly built a vast farming empire beneath the surface of his well-known tech endeavors. As his landholdings continue to expand, the impact on local communities and the future of farming in Nebraska remains uncertain.

Flatwater Free Press reporter Yanqi Xu contributed to the data analysis used in this story. The series, "Who's Buying Nebraska?" was made possible by a grant from the Center for Rural Strategies and Grist.