America's Top 100 Land Owners 2014 - Modern Farmer

America’s Top 100 Land Owners 2014

The nation's Top 100 land moguls.

Most of the year, America stands in awe of New World kings: those who have amassed the most information, the coolest technology, the best ideas or just immeasurable piles of cash. But each November, land broker Fay Ranches takes us back to a time when wealth was measured in old-fashioned acreage.

This is just a guess, but Fay Ranches probably has a good reason to release the Land Report 100. The difference between #1 John Malone’s holdings (2,200,000 acres) and #2 Ted Turner’s (2,000,000 acres) might not seem consequential to most of us. But the difference between first and second place on a list could add some liquidity to the American market for land sales.

Not that Fay Ranches hints at the any hidden interest in its Land Report publication. According to the authors, the annual issue is a compilation of “the ways America’s largest landowners make the most of one of our essential freedoms.”

That freedom is either the right to own property or the right to have glowing profiles written up in a fancy magazine. Either way, it makes for a fun read for the rest of us.

#1 John Malone

2,200,000 acres
The Denver cable mogul surpassed his friend Ted Turner for the top spot in 2011 when he bought 1.2 million acres of woodlands in Maine. He now owns about three Rhode Islands of land here in the U.S. and an Irish castle across the pond.

Europe also factored into Malone’s business dealings last year. Bloomberg reports that shifting the address of his Liberty Global Inc. from Colorado to London helped him save $200 million in personal taxes. The inversion likely saved his shareholders billions more.

#2 Ted Turner

2,000,000+ acres
CNN founder Ted Turner doesn’t need to croon for a home where the buffalo roam. He already owns it. A collection of 51,000 bison spread across 14 massive ranches make up almost 10 percent of all the bison in North America.

#3 Emmerson Family

1,860,000 acres
Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) has been in the Emmerson Family ever since old Curly Emmerson founded the company with his son Red in 1949. According to a 2008 Forbes profile, SPI has remained a family business. Red “wears jeans, drives pickup truck. Son Mark handles finances.”

#4 Brad Kelley

1,500,000+ acres
Down 17,351 acres from last year
Forget nicotine; Brad Kelley gets his buzz from puffs of success. Since selling a discounted cigarette brand in 2001, the non-smoker has bought the Lonely Planet guidebook series, had a horse in the Preakness Stakes and this year contributed a good part of his land holdings to conservation efforts in Texas.

#5 Reed Family

1,370,000 acres
Up 600,000 acres
Another privately held forest company that recently gave itself a big present: 600,000 acres of land in South Central Oregon. The purchase came just as the 2014 Land Report 100 was being finalized, but, through sheer force of will, the authors managed to give the company its proper ranking.

#6 Irving Family

1,250,000 acres
Wait, what? Who let these Canadians on the list? The Irvings own 1.25 millions acres in Maine, though most of their holdings are made up of 2 million acres across the northern border. But even if our pride is hurt, Americans should probably let it go — given everything the Irvings do for us. Apparently, the family supplies one-fifth of U.S. oil product imports.

#7 Singleton Family

1,100,000 acres
Family patriarch Henry Singleton presaged our current class of Silicon Valley billionaires. After amassing a fortune in semiconductors and early investments in Apple, Singleton turned his attention to ranching before his death in 1995. All that capital helped. At one point, he owned 1.5 percent of New Mexico.

#8 King Ranch Heirs

911,215 acres
The King Ranch might win the prize for most diverse land holding. After 161 years of continuous operation, the King Ranch has branched from cattle into growing crops, publishing newspapers and corralling plenty of tourists.

#9 Stan Kroenke

848,631 acres
Up 60 acres
Sixty acres isn’t much in the world of massive land dealings, but Stan Kroenke’s addition this year set off a firestorm of speculation in the sports world. Why? Kroenke owns the St. Louis Rams. Also, that 60-acre purchase is right in the middle of Los Angeles – a city that still lacks an NFL team. Interesting.

#10 Pingree Heirs

830,000 acres
Got to give good ol’ grandpa Pingree credit for his business sense. In the 19th century, David Pingree, the so-called Merchant Prince of Salem, opted out of the shipping business to buy land outside Maine townships. His heirs have since leveraged those purchases into a business for really nice hardwood floors.

#11 Ford Family

625,000 acres
Another logging family that sawed their way to huge land holdings in Oregon and Northern California.

#12 Lykes Heirs

615,000 acres
Not a bad total acreage for the Florida family working in citrus farming, cattle ranching, forestry, sugar cane and a range of other fields. Still, they are smarting from the loss of a 15,000-acre estate outside of Havana to forces of the Cuban Revolution. According to their website, it’s now a cooperative farm.

#13 Briscoe Family

560,000 acres
Like the Bushes, the Briscoes are one of those Texas families that just can’t help their own success. Their bloodlines contain a captain of the Texas revolution and Dolph Biscoe Jr. – a two-term governor of the Lone Star State.

#14 W.T. Waggoner Estate

535,000 acres
Sorry that your name isn’t on this list? Well, the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S. – full of cattle, hard-bitten men and Texas history – could be yours for the fair price of just $725 million dollars! The ranch has come to market after years of family fighting in the courts.

#15 O’Connor Heirs

500,000 acres
This Texas ranching clan tie their lineage to Thomas O’Connor. At just 14, O’Connor hopped off a boat from Ireland to fight in the Texas Revolution. He later applied that same audacity to cattle ranching.

#16 Philip Anschutz

434,500 acres
The Denver billionaire is known for starting Major League Soccer, reshaping the cinema business and presenting live entertainment. He also apparently owns a huge ranch in Wyoming.

#17 Drummond Family

433,000 acres
Ree Drummond, a member of an extensive Oklahoma ranching clan, runs the popular Pioneer Woman blog featuring recipes and confessions from the American heartland. Her slogan? “Plowing through life in the country one calf nut at a time.”

#18 Simplot Family

422,500 acres
You can thank Jack Simplot for French fries. His deal with McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc to supply frozen French fries year-round turned out to be the perfect pairing of commercial farm and restaurant. By 2005, he was supplying more than half of all fries to the fast food chain.

#19 Holding Family

400,000 acres
Robert Earl Holding is a rags-to-riches story. Or more precisely, it’s a story of turning a 12-room truck stop into an empire of hotels and ski resorts.

#20 Hughes Family

390,000 acres
Up 17,000 acres
“Eight decades’ worth of oil and gas know-how and success,” according to Land Report, has helped the Hughes Family set aside a few hundred thousand acres for ranching, grazing and hunting.

#21 Malone Mitchell III

384,000 acres
Malone Mitchell is one badass oil and gas entrepreneur. One of his smartest moves was selling a redeveloped oil field to Chevron in 1994, setting the stage for high-profit acquisitions in West Texas. Brilliant!

#22 Wilks Brothers

347,5000 acres
Up 36,000 acres
Sometimes owning land comes with an unexpected side of controversy. The purchase of Montana’s N Bar ranch caused many to speculate that the Texas billionaire brothers would be exporting their business (oil and gas exploration) and their culture (Texas’s style commercial farming) to the property. The pair dispelled the rumors, saying they only hoped to rebuild the ranch’s heritage and improve wildlife management.

#23 Collins Family

310,472 acres
This logging clan has a slogan to match its early adoption of sustainable forest practices. Collins: feel good about it. Doesn’t that just make you want to saw some particle board?

#24 Nunley Brothers

301,500 acres
Richard Nunley isn’t about to get sentimental about all his cattle. “We don’t use the Santa Gertrudis cow because we love her or want to pet her,” he explains on the Nunley website. “We use her in our operation because she maximizes profit unlike any other.”

#25 Jeff Bezos

290,000 acres
The billionaire owner of uses his massive ranch in West Texas to test reusable space craft. Who knows? Maybe the next version of Amazon Prime will offer free 10-second delivery.

#26 Collier Family

280,000 acres
This Florida family once owned more than a million acres in the Sunshine State. The land they have left holds everything from oil production to agriculture to real estate development.

#27 Kokernot Heirs

278,000 acres
Knock knock? Who’s there? Kokernots. Kokernots who? Kokernots don’t grow from palm trees, but they sure do ranch plenty of cattle in Texas.

#28 Anne Marion

275,000 acres
Rumor has it that Anne Marion’s great-great-grandfather – Samuel “Burk” Burnett – won the legendary 6666 Ranch in a high-stakes poker game.

#29 Babbitt Heirs

275,000 acres
The Babbitt’s cattle might have the best view of any livestock. They graze along the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

#30 Llano Partners

265,000 acres
A Texas-based family partnership managed by G. Hughes Abell, their ranch and farm holdings span Texas, New Mexico and Florida.

#31 Mike Smith

263,066 acres
Smith owns bunches of grass and farmland in Eastern New Mexico and Western Texas. He has recently expanded with lands between Dallas and Waco.

#32 Donald Horton

262,805 acres
Up 176,805 acres
He might be 32nd on this list, but Donald Horton is happy to boast that he is the largest home builder in the U.S. A recent ranch acquisition in Texas help propel Horton up the list in 2014.

#33 Lyda Family

260,035 acres
The family’s La Escalera Ranch serves as a home to deer, elk, turkey and quail. The ranch website boasts some rather boss family photos.

#34 (tie) Jones Family

255,000 acres
A.C. Jones IV manages his family’s ranch land near Corpus Christi, Texas.

#34 (tie) Killam Family

255,000 acres
Patriarch O.W. Killam earned the distinction of being the first person to discover oil south of San Antonio, setting off the South Texas Oil Boom in the 1920s.

#34 (tie) True Family

255,000 acres
According to Land Report, the True Family’s farming and ranching operations are just as impressive as their successful oil fields in Wyoming.

#37 Reynolds Family

250,000 acres
The Reynolds clan got their started ranching after the Civil War at the Fork of the Brazos River in Texas. Their heirs now own ranches in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana and North Dakota.

#38 Paul Fireman

247,000 acres
A massive ranch in Nevada is one of the former Reebok chairman’s less inventive holdings. He built one of the world’s most expensive golf courses atop a dump in New Jersey. Now, he wants to add a 96-foot tower to the course fit with a casino, a hotel and apartments.

#39 D.K. Boyd

244,332 acres
Up 3 acres
The West Texas rancher and oilman increased his holdings by three acres this year. No word as to how, but glad at least someone is keeping track.

#40 Koch Family

239,000 acres
Ah, the Koch Family! Bane of liberals! Masters of campaign financing! Little did you know they also dabble in Texas and Montana ranches.

#41 (tie) Benjy Griffith III

225,000 acres
Bad news for Benjy: This year, the land trader made the Wall Street Journal when he listed his Texas ranch at a $5.5 million loss.

#41 (tie) Bidegain Family

225,000 acres
After battling blizzards, fires and a recession, Phillip Bidegain and his family are currently up against a crippling drought in Eastern New Mexico.

#43 Scott Family

220,000 acres
Way back when, Homer Scott Sr. had the talent to compete as an Olympic boxer, but lacked the finances to compete. Now that he has plenty of money thanks to a ranch straddling the Montana-Wyoming border, he lacks the athletic ability. Life…

#44 Louis Bacon

218,311 acres
Up 2,260 acres
210,678 acres (conservation acreage)
This Bacon is a favorite of environmentalists thanks to his aggressive conservation efforts. He has made other news this year for starting a spat with Canadian fashion magnate Peter Nygard. The two are neighbors in the Bahamas, and Bacon isn’t a fan of Nygard’s standards for property management.

#45 East Wildlife Foundation

215,000 acres
Robert East’s foundation integrates cattle ranching with wildlife conservation and research efforts on South Texas rangelands.

#46 Hearst Heirs

214,000 acres

Did someone say Rosebud? Years later, the heirs of media mogul William Randolph Hearst still own plenty of rural land across California.

#47 Gage Heirs

213,720 acres
The A.S. Gage Ranches once spanned more than half a million acres. Now, it’s down to less than half of that. Come on Gage heirs!

#48 Cassidy Heirs

212,985 acres
Another family of Canadians who made their way across the border from Nova Scotia, bought some timberland in Maine and now has timber holdings across the U.S.

#49 (tie) Eugene Gabych

200,000 acres
According to Land Report, Gabrych, “takes land investment very seriously.” That’s great for Gabych, but we’d still like to meet the person who treats land investment as a frivolous hobby.

#49 (tie) Langdale Family

200,000 acres
Family success dates back to the 1890s when John W. Langdale harvested turpentine and rosin timber in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. (In case you are interested, the tree doesn’t produce turpentine, but the leaves taste and smell like it.)

Check out the full 2014 Land Report 100 for numbers 51 to 100 of the largest landowners in the country.

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