Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates paid $171 million to acquire 14,500 acres of highly productive farmland in Eastern Washington. The seller was a division of John Hancock Life Insurance Company. The acquisition, which closed on August 28, ranks as the highest-priced rural land transaction nationwide in 2018. Earlier this year, the Investment Corporation of Dubai paid $136 million to acquire 38,453 acres of Florida ranchland. The seller was the Latt Maxcy Corporation, which liquidated the last remaining portion of the historic El Maximo Ranch.
Multiple Corporate Layers
Several layers of corporate ownership veiled the Eastern Washington acquisition. Wendy Culverwell at the Tri-City Herald identified Angelina Ag Company, a Louisiana corporation, as the buyer. Though domiciled in Louisiana, Angelina Ag Company shares the same corporate mailing address as Gates’s Cottonwood Ag Management in Kirkland, Washington. Cottonwood Ag did not respond to inquiries from The Land Report.
Horse Heaven Hills
According to tax records, John Hancock Life Insurance paid $75 million to acquire the farmland in 2010. The acreage includes 10,500 acres of irrigated farmland, 3,900 acres of rangeland, and 140 acres of other land. The tract is located in a highly productive agricultural region known as Horse Heaven Hills.
“Growers in Horse Heaven Hills produce apples, cherries, carrots, dryland and irrigated wheat, and row and field crops,” says Dr. Alan Busacca, professor emeritus at Washington State University. “In addition, the state’s oldest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, has two of its largest vineyards in that AVA: Canoe Ridge Vineyard and Columbia Crest Vineyard,” says the soil scientist, geologist, and viticulturist.
Washington is the second largest wine-producing state in the nation. The Horse Heaven Hills have their own distinct American Viticultural Area (AVA) and are also a component of the enormous Columbia Valley AVA, which encompasses more than 11 million acres in Washington and Oregon.
This article was updated to credit Wendy Culverwell as the reporter who broke the story of the Horse Heaven Hills transaction in the Tri-City Herald.