Bill Gates owns a lot of American farmland, but not the majority
CLAIM: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates owns the majority of America’s farmland and the investment firm BlackRock holds the majority of single family houses in the country.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The billionaire tech mogul and philanthropist has quietly amassed nearly 270,000 acres of farmland across the country, but that’s still a relatively small slice of the nation’s nearly 900 million total farm acres. BlackRock also does not own the majority of the country’s 80 million single-family homes. U.S. Census Bureau data shows fewer than 20% of such properties are rentals, and the vast majority of those are owned by individual investors, not institutional investors like BlackRock.
THE FACTS: As Elon Musk’s bid to purchase Twitter has grabbed headlines in recent days, some prominent voices have taken to social media to claim that some other significant acquisitions by deep-pocketed individuals and corporations have largely flown under the radar.
“Bill Gates is buying up the majority of American farmland and BlackRock is buying the majority of single family houses but I’m supposed to believe the biggest threat to us is Elon Musk buying Twitter?” read one representative tweet that’s been liked or shared on the platform more than 250,000 times.
The Microsoft co-founder is considered the largest private owner of farmland in the country with some 269,000 acres across dozens of states, according to last year’s edition of the Land Report 100, an annual survey of the nation’s largest landowners.
But a Gates spokesperson said in a statement on Friday that the claim that he’s bought the majority of the nation’s farmland is false, pointing to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report from February that showed there were more than 895 million total acres of farmland in the country last year.
That means Gates, whose net worth is estimated at some $134 billion according to Forbes’ annual ranking of the richest people in the country, owns less than one percent of the nation’s total farmland. So while the tech mogul certainly owns a large constellation of farms, it’s nowhere close to the majority nationwide.
Gates, in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit last year, said his “investment group” was behind the purchases, and suggested it was linked to seed and biofuel development.
“The agriculture sector is important,” he wrote. “With more productive seeds we can avoid deforestation and help Africa deal with the climate difficulty they already face. It is unclear how cheap biofuels can be but if they are cheap it can solve the aviation and truck emissions.”
BlackRock, meanwhile, is also not the owner of the majority of single family houses in the country.
There are more than 85 million single-family homes in the country, and only around 15 million of those are rentals, according to the latest American Housing Survey by the Census Bureau. Of those rentals, less than a third are owned by non-individual investors, according to a 2022 report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
In emails, BlackRock spokesman Christopher Beattie told The Associated Press that the firm primarily invests in retail, office buildings, hotels and apartment complexes, rather than single-family homes, but he declined to provide a breakdown.
The company also took to Twitter to reject the false narrative.
“We’ve never been one of the big institutional buyers of single family homes,” BlackRock said in response to one tweet.
The firm is a shareholder in Dallas-based Invitation Homes, which owns nearly 80,000 single-family rentals nationwide. That makes Invitation Homes the largest operator of single-family rental homes in the country, but still represents a tiny fraction of all such homes.
BlackRock also suggested it was being confused for the similarly-named investment management firm Blackstone, which until recently owned Invitation Homes. Adding to the confusion, Blackstone was once a major investor in BlackRock, but sold off its stake in the 1990s.
“BlackRock is sometimes confused w/ Blackstone, which owned Invitation Homes. Our exposure to Invitation Homes is owning its stock in mutual funds we manage, not buying houses w/ them,” BlackRock tweeted.
Investors generally are nevertheless buying an increasing share of the U.S. housing market. Investors bought a record 18.4% of the homes purchased in the fourth quarter of 2021 – three-quarters of which were single-family homes, according to real estate firm RedFin.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.