The United States is the third largest country on Earth by landmass (behind Russia and Canada,) covering nearly 2.3 billion acres. About 60% (1.4 billion acres) is privately owned, while the rest is owned by federal, state, and local governments, and tribal reservations. While urban areas make up only 3% of the U.S. land base, most of the country is rural – with the majority being used for agriculture (including cropland and livestock pasture) and forestry.
If the nation’s private land was divided amongst the current population of the United States, each person would own about 4.19. Of course, not everyone has the money or desire to invest in rural landholdings. While over 44 million households rent – rather than own – their homes, other individuals, families, and heirs own hundreds of thousands of acres.
To determine the 50 largest landowners in the United States, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from The Land Report magazine’s 2021 Land Report 100. The report’s estimates are based on information from other published reports, online databases, tax records, and information provided by various landowners, and include only rural land holdings. Ownership must be deeded, not leased, but note that some of these landowners also lease significant tracts of pastureland from the federal government.
Much of the holdings are ranch or timberland in the Southwest and on the West Coast. Accordingly, many of the landowners are in the ranching or forestry business, while some are also oil company owners or media or entertainment moguls. Almost no land in the Midwest or Northeast belongs to America’s major landowners, with the notable exception of forests in northern Maine.
The 50 individuals, families, and heirs on the list own at least 261,000 acres apiece and nearly 32 million acres combined – or about 1.4% of the country’s total landmass. Nine families or individuals own over 1 million acres each, while the top four own at least 2 million acres each. (This is the city in every state with the most billionaires.)
The largest landholders in America are the Emmerson Family, owners of the California-based lumber company Sierra Pacific Industries. In 2021, they acquired 175,000 acres in Oregon from Seneca Jones Timber, which raised the family’s holdings to 2.33 million acres. No. 2 on the list is Liberty Media Chairman John Malone, who owns 2.2 million acres of ranch and timber holdings, while third is the Reed family, who own a Washington-based forest products company with land holdings in California, Oregon, and Washington.
Big-name billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates also rank among the top 50 landowners. Bill Gates made headlines in 2020 for becoming the largest owner of private farmland in the U.S. Over the past decade, the Microsoft co-founder has accumulated about 269,000 acres of active farmland in 18 states. Other billionaire business magnates on the list include L.A. Rams owner Stan Kroenke and CNN founder Ted Turner. Here are the richest Americans of all time.
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