Fact Check: Is Bill Gates Purchasing a “Majority of American Farmland?”

A viral tweet from right-wing activist Mercedes Schlapp claims that Bill Gates is purchasing “a majority of American farmland” and that investment firm BlackRock is purchasing “a majority of single family houses.”

Gates is indeed buying up farmland, but his purchases come nowhere near a majority of American farmland. There are 895 million acres of farmland in the United States according to a 2022 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to reporting about Gates purchasing farmland last year, he owns more than 269,000 acres. When asked during a Reddit Ask Me Anything event why he was buying up so much farmland, Gates replied: “My investment group chose to do this. It is not connected to climate. The agriculture sector is important. 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.”

Gates’ farmland represents .03 percent of American farmland. It’s a sizable amount for  a single land owner, and is enough to make Gates the most significant private farmland owner in the country. But it is nowhere near a majority of American farmland as Schlapp suggests.

Schlapp’s claim about BlackRock’s purchase of single-family homes has a similar kernel of truth that Schlapp has blown far out of proportion: The investment firm is indeed purchasing houses, but at nowhere near the scale Schlapp suggests. The claim has its roots in a 2021 Wall Street Journal article about how investors were purchasing single-family homes seeing them as strong investments. The article became a talking point among populists who saw the situation as emblematic of the self-interest of corporate America. But even then, while BlackRock and other investors were purchasing homes at a near record pace, their purchases represented just a fraction of the housing market.

It’s tough to put a number on how many single-family homes BlackRock has an investment in—one real-estate company that it invests in, Invitation Homes, owns 80,000 single-family rentals, but that doesn’t tell us anything about properties BlackRock, or any of the companies it is invested in, may have purchased to resell. BlackRock’s $60 billion in real estate assets is too broad to be revealing on the single-family home front, on the other hand. But even operating without data specific to BlackRock it’s clear that Schlapp’s claim the firm is purchasing a majority of family homes is far off. John Burns Real Estate Consulting estimated that in 2020 investor purchases made up 20 percent of housing sales. And that number includes not just BlackRock but all investment firms and any private individual who is purchasing the house not as their primary residence. Vacation homes, second homes, rental properties, houses planned to be flipped, all of these purchases get included in that statistic as well.

Schlapp’s claims about Bill Gates and BlackRock are based on things that are actually happening, but they’re wildly inaccurate. Bill Gates doesn’t own anything close to a majority of American farmland, and based on what data is available about private investors in the housing market, it’s clear that BlackRock isn’t buying a majority of single-family homes coming on to the market in America either.

The American Conservative Union, where Schlapp is a senior fellow, did not respond to a request for comment. 

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