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North Dakota Attorney General’s Office looks into Bill Gates-related farmland sale

North Dakota Attorney General’s Office looks into Bill Gates-related farmland sale

June 22, 2022 |  By Mikkel Pates |

The North Dakota Attorney General’s office is asking Red River Trust, a Washington-based entity with offices in the Kansas City, Kansas, area, and an address at Grafton, North Dakota, to prove that it doesn’t violate anti-corporate farming laws, which would require it to sell land it purchased from owners of Campbell Farms of Grafton.

BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Attorney General’s office is looking into a land transaction between a prominent Grafton, North Dakota, potato farming family and a trust associated with billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

In a letter dated June 21, 2022, and addressed to the Red River Trust, care of trustee Peter Headley, in the trust’s Lenexa, Kansas, office, and also at an office in Grafton, North Dakota, where Campbell Farms is headquartered and still operates, the attorney general’s office notified the trust that all corporations or limited liability companies are “prohibited from owning or leasing farmland or ranchland in the state of North Dakota,” and from “engaging in farming or ranching.”

“In addition, the law places certain limitations on the ability of trusts to own farmland or ranchland,” the letter said.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley was not immediately available for comment but said he could speak on the matter after a response period.

The Trust and Headley have 30 days to respond to Kerrie Helm, a paralegal in the attorney general’s Corporate Farming Enforcement Division.

“Our office needs to confirm how your company uses this land and whether this use meets any of the statutory exceptions, such as the business purpose exception, so that we may close this case and file it in our inactive files,” the letter says.

Agweek on June 13, 2022, broke a story that described transactions about land deals, and a paper trail that connected the transactions in Pembina and Walsh Counties . The deal totaled $13.5 million, involving a total of about 2,100 acres.

The North Dakota Corporate or Limited Liability Company Farming Law has “certain exceptions, such as permitting registered family farms or allowing the use of the land for business purposes,” the letter said.

Initially, the law requires North Dakota county recorders to provide a copy of a title to the attorney general if that recorded title “conveys ownership of farmland or ranchland to a corporation or LLC.”

The letter said it had “come to our attention” that the Red River Trust “may have acquired land for farming or ranching in Pembina County on Nov. 4, 2021. A corporation or LLC “found in violation” of the law has up to a year to divest itself of the land or face a penalty “up to $100,000,” the letter said.

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