FARGO, N.D.—North Dakota’s attorney general has found the sale of a couple thousand acres of prime farmland to a group tied to Bill Gates complies with a Depression-era law meant to protect family farms because the land is being leased back to farmers.
The state’s Republican Attorney General Drew Wrigley had inquired into the land sale and on Wednesday issued a letter saying the transaction complied with the archaic anti-corporate farming law. The law prohibits corporations or limited liability companies from owning farmland or ranchland, but allows individual trusts to own the land if it is leased to farmers.
The purchase of the land had raised legal questions as well as concerns that ultrarich landowners do not share the state’s values.
Gates is considered the largest private owner of farmland in the country with some 269,000 acres (108,860 hectares) across dozens of states, according to last year’s edition of the Land Report 100, an annual survey of the nation’s largest landowners. The Microsoft co-founder owns less than 1 percent of the nation’s total farmland.
Gates’ firm, Red River Trust, purchased $13.5 million worth of land in two counties from wealthy northeastern North Dakota potato growers Campbell Farms.
In a curious move, the Campbell family in February filed a partnership name certificate with the North Dakota secretary of state naming their farming operation the Red River Trust—the same name as Gates’ firm. But an attorney for Gates’ firm wrote to the attorney general’s office that the Campbells registered the name without his knowledge.
The Campbells did not immediately respond to a request for comment.