As West Withers Corporations Consolidate Land and Water Rights

Columbia Insight —

200,000 made-up heifers. A massive fraud rocking eastern Washington’s arid ranching communities, leading to criminal charges and bankruptcy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Bill Gates-owned company duking it out at the auction block , each willing to spend more than $200 million to buy 22,500 acres of ranch land and its associated water rights.

These were just some of the headlines from this past summer when Cody Easterday of Mesa, Wash., plead guilty to defrauding Tyson Foods and another unnamed company of more than $244 million. He did so, according to court documents, by billing for the care of those imaginary animals.

After he pleaded guilty, the bidding war on his land started. In June, the Church’s agricultural holding company beat out Gates’ 100C LLC, cementing the Latter-day Saints as one of the largest commercial agricultural landowners in the western United States.

That’s raised troubling questions about land consolidation, a decades-long trend fueled by the demise of the family farm. But there’s a more complicated, and potentially troubling consequence to that purchase.

Read more >