Why would a billionaire become interested in farming? There are probably fewer billionaires in the world than there are reasons, but we can narrow it down a bit.
In the case of at least two of the uber-wealthy, agriculture has helped make their fortunes. For another, it was an investment opportunity he thinks will pay off big. But for some of the more philanthropy-minded of the One Percent, it’s about helping the less fortunate. And yes, there are those not actually involved in farming who were merely gaming the system to receive farm subsidies—at least until the feds addressed the issue.
With 900 patents under his belt, Harry Stine, founder of Stine Seed, made his money through plant genetics that he sells to the big boys, including Monsanto and Syngenta. About 60 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. have genetics that were developed by Stine’s businesses.
Liu Yonghao is often referred to as “China’s richest chicken farmer” since he initially made his money in that line of work, but he has since diversified into banking and other endeavors. While Yonghao has turned over chairmanship of his massive agri-business New Hope Liuhe to his daughter, he is still involved in the business.
This American investor and businessman is “bullish on agriculture” and has put his money where his mouth is by snapping up an agricultural company earlier this year. He’s also the director of a large Russian fertilizer company.
The best known billionaire involved in agriculture, also happens to be the richest man in the world. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become one of the world’s largest supporters of agricultural research and development, and the number-one funder for research into genetic engineering, according to The Guardian.
The CEO of the global computer technology corporation Oracle, who owns 98 percent of the Hawaiian island of Lanai (he bought it in 2012 for $300 million), has plans to ramp up the island’s sustainable agriculture capabilities by building a state-of-the-art facility incorporating both aquaponics and hydroponics. He hopes to feed the island’s 3,000 residents and the thousands of tourists who visit each year.