Minding Ag's Business
Marcia Zarley Taylor DTN Executive Editor

Thursday 10/04/12

Land Moguls Continue Buying Spree

Ted Turner has been deposed. Last year John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media (corporate owner of the Atlanta Braves and Sirius radio among other entertainment ventures), overtook his pal Turner as the nation's largest private landowner. He made a million-acre timber purchase at the trough of the housing market to race ahead. According to the fall issue of The Land Report, a magazine for landowners, Malone owns 2.2 million acres of ranch and forest land in Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Maine. That's equivalent to the Middle Eastern kingdom of Jordan. Second-place Turner has a mere 2 million acres of holdings in ranches scattered from New Mexico to Nebraska.

“Ted and I have been buddies for many, many years, and in many ways the idea of investing in land ownership and stewardship came to me from Ted," Malone told Fortune magazine in a related article this month. "He was the one who gave me the concept that you could do well and do good in land ownership.”

The Land Report's Largest 100 Landowner list includes a who's who of families and individuals who own huge swaths of the nation's ranch and timberland. For example, the King Ranch heirs rank No. 7 with 911,215 iconic acres. The Simplot family is No. 18 at 408,663 acres and J.G. Boswell Co., the nation's largest cotton farm holds 150,000 acres, according to the magazine.

Altogether, The Land Report claims that the Top 100 have increased their landholdings by 18.6 percent over the past five years, from 27.2 million acres in 2007 to 32.3 million in 2012. That's a vote of confidence in "real" assets, The Land Report's editors say. But what I find curious is who is not on this Top 100 list.

Missing-in-action are investment firms like TIAA-CREF, widely publicized as the largest institutional owner of U.S. farmland but one that's probably harder to trace than an individual. It holds close to $3 billion worth of farmland--mostly in the U.S. but also Australia. It expected to add another $1.85 billion to its portfolio in 2012 and 2013, fund managers told a global investment conference I attended earlier this year.

Another investment firm on an upward trajectory is International Farming Corporation, one of the speakers at last year's DTN-Progressive Farmer Ag Summit. It was aiming for a portfolio of 500,000 acres of owned or custom farmed ground in the near future.

Also under the radar are the holdings of non-profits such as the Mormon Church and educational institutions.

Farm realtors tell me it is no surprise that we don't know who the real Top 100 landowners are in the U.S. For starters, land transactions are often not public record west of the Mississippi so you'd need intimate local knowledge to know who's buying. Even then, a legal web of trusts and LLCs disguise ownership interests. Nevertheless, The Land Report's list is worth a peek at www.thelandreport.com. It puts big in perspective.

Follow me on Twitter@MarciaZTaylor

Posted at 6:29PM CDT 10/04/12 by Marcia Zarley Taylor
Comments (5)
Add a drought, then maybe another year of extreme weather, plus lack of support for a REAL Farm Bill and Global Financiers who have recently been dumping Stock and starting to buy up Foreclosed and "distressed" Agricultural Land-mostly in the West and Northwest, at the moment, but who really knows as this little American Drama unfolds...and, well...you get the picture.
Posted by Ric Ohge at 11:14AM CDT 10/10/12
I would like to see a category for irrigated farmland ownership totals,timberland or ranch land that includes a lot of acres that won't even grow trees and is mostly rock doesn't impress me much but irrigated farmland does and means a lot more to the populous.
Posted by Bruce Dawson at 7:21PM CDT 10/10/12
Ask the BNSF or UP or any other successor to the original land grant railroads how "...a lot of acres that won't even grow trees and is mostly rock..." have treated those companies over the years ;-) Will Rogers used to say "My Daddy always said to buy land; they ain't making it no more". That was nearly a century ago. Two million acres is approximately 500X as much land as I own. I think that's noteworthy, regardless of the quality of the land.
Posted by Mark Rasmussen at 9:17AM CDT 10/11/12
The Land Report 100 focuses on private U.S. landowners and does not list REITs like Plum Creek Timber Company which is the largest landowner in the United States. It does not track the institutions like TIAA-CREF. The REITS and institutional players are less "landowners" and more land managers since the underlying investors in the case of REITS are a multitude of shareholders or in the case of TIAA CREF this is land ownership and management on behalf of others. The "real" top U.S. landowners are indeed known, but this is not what the Land Report 100 lists, it focuses on private individuals and family ownership. This is not secret information that people in the land business do not know. If the criteria you mention applied, just the entity that controls the most real estate in the U.S. start with the U.S. government with its control over the National Park System, BLM, Military bases, Government facilities. And there is defacto control by way of leasehold on all of the CRP land. John Watson www.terraqua.us
Posted by john watson at 10:46AM CDT 10/11/12
! trillion, how much is it really? there are 86400 seconds in a day. 31536000 million seconds in a year, 1billion seconds is 31.7years, 1 trillion seconds is 31709years. kind of puts it into perspective how much "our" goverment spends
Posted by Unknown at 4:54PM CDT 10/13/12
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