Last week, eccentric actor, comedian and spiritual journeyman, Russell Brand took to the airwaves to address his nearly 6 million youtube subscribers. He opened the show with “The Queen is dead, but oligarchy lives on!” He followed up that line with “Bill Gates is buying up, yet more farmland in a food crisis… where does this lead?”
That’s the million-dollar question, Mr. Brand. It’s well documented by now that the Microsoft Corp. founder likely saw food shortages coming years ago. He’s been buying up land at a rate that saw him surpass McDonald’s in acreage ownership although he still trails the Catholic church by a healthy margin. What is he up to, and how much does he own, exactly?
Given the number of companies and holdings Gates has at his disposal, it’d be nearly impossible to calculate the exact amount of acreage. On his YouTube channel, Brand shared a report from Newsweek that explained the spark of fury in North Dakota after Gates’ July acquisition of 2,100 acres. The article said, “Having already amassed nearly 270,000 acres across the country, Gates, who is one of the richest men in the world, is the largest private owner of farmland in America.”
His video goes on to show clips of a fourth-generation farmer from Georgia, and the danger he sees in Gates’ ownership. The farmer is Will Harris and his post on social media went viral, leading to an interview on FoxBusiness.
Harris has five key points that all center around Gates’ shortcomings in a project in India and Africa, and a lack of understanding of the nuances and complexities that come with farming in specific areas. Each area is unique, and Harris insists that it takes decades to understand the balance. Gates’ affinity for technology, forcing plant-based proteins, and under-the-radar deals leave Harris shaken.
The concern isn’t new, and it isn’t just with farmland. Former President George W. Bush caught similar heat years ago when he purchased 300,000 acres in Paraguay. The acreage included one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world: Acuifero Guarani.
Land and water are two aspects of billionaires buying up the world’s essential resources. You can see why there is mass concern. The Great Water Grab is still ongoing and has been in motion for years.
Businesses like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. make the apt point that water is petroleum for the next century. Water is a $425 billion industry, and there is money to be made. Goldman Sachs is up about $120 per share. Water companies like American Water Works Company Inc. have seen tremendous growth (~80%) in the past five years.
Here’s the take-home lesson — follow billionaires when they buy farmland and basic goods.
It worked for Gates, whose money-making acumen can’t be argued.
One way to mimic Gates’ holdings is to invest your money in real estate investment trusts (REITs) and crowdfunding platforms that feature farmland.
The farmland investment platform AcreTrader has completed four investment cycles over the past 12 months with annualized returns ranging from 15% to over 30%.
Plenty of REITs focus on agriculture and farmland as well. Consider investing in something like Gladstone Land Corp or Farmland Partners Inc.
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