From the vast open plains of Australia to the frozen tundra of Canada’s Arctic, the world’s biggest landowners come in many different shapes and sizes. Some of them are farmers who have spent their entire lives working the land, while others are wealthy tycoons who have amassed fortunes through their investments. But one thing they all have in common is that they have managed to acquire an astonishing amount of real estate, making them some of the most powerful and influential figures in the world. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the biggest landowner families in the world and explore the stories behind their incredible wealth.
- McBride family: 1.3 million hectares
The McBride family owns and operates multiple wool-producing businesses across Australia that account for a significant portion of the country’s wool industry. In total, the family claims to own 1.3 million hectares of land.
- Irving family: 1.3 million hectares
Brothers Arthur and James Irving, who hail from Canada, head up the Irving family, which owns 513,057 hectares of land in the United States. The family’s lumber division also owns around 800,000 hectares of private timberlands in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Irving clan’s total land ownership exceeds 1.3 million hectares.
- Daley Family: 1,301million hectares
The Daley family’s Arrabury Pastoral Company has more than a million hectares of cattle properties across Queensland, including the 546,000-hectare Cluny station. This also includes Arrabury and Mt Leonard, which operate together across 755,000 hectares. Another property, Binda, is used for mixed farming and cattle, but its size is undisclosed. The family’s total land ownership easily exceeds 1.3 million hectares.
- McMillan family: 1.6 million hectares
The McMillan Pastoral Company bought Australia’s Wollogorang Station and Wentworth Station from Chinese billionaire Xingfa Ma in 2020. The deal, which cost AU$53 million ($41m), added almost 706,000 hectares to the McMillan family’s portfolio. The family also acquired Roxborough Downs and Mudgerebar Station, adding another 420,000 hectares for close to AU$40 million ($29.5m). They already owned Calvert Hills Station in Queensland, which they acquired for AU$15 million ($11.6m) in 2013, bringing their total land ownership to at least 1.6 million hectares.
- Lee family: 1.75 million hectares
The Lee family owns Australian Country Choice, one of Queensland’s largest and most successful farming firms. The company operates 42 properties in the state, which collectively add up to around 1.75 million hectares.
- Hewitt family: 2.05 million hectares
The Hewitt family have been pastoralists in Queensland for generations and the clan still controls numerous land holdings across the Australian state, as well as in the Northern Territory and New South Wales. The family’s extensive portfolio includes 16 holdings, such as the recently acquired Narwietooma aggregation, which comprises 1,108,200 hectares. Purchased in February 2022, it nearly doubled the family’s land ownership to 2.05 million hectares and reportedly cost close to AU$100 million ($74m).
- Morgan and Wells families: 2.1 million hectares
The Morgan and Wells families together own 2.1 million hectares of land along the border of South Australia and New South Wales. Their Mutooroo Pastoral Company was established in 1868 and manages five cattle stations, including Quinyambie, which alone comprises 1.2 million hectares.
- Holmes à Court family: 2.7 million+ hectares
The aristocratic Holmes à Court family are the proud owners of Australia’s Heytesbury Cattle Company, which controls more than 2.7 million hectares of land across the country’s vast Northern Territory.
- Hughes Family – 3.14 million hectares
The Hughes family has been running their cattle business in Queensland since 1872. Their company, the Hughes Pastoral Company, is one of the most profitable beef-producing enterprises in the world, specializing in the premium Wagyu cut. In 2021, the company purchased the 438,000-hectare Miranda Downs cattle station, bringing their total holdings to around 3,138,000 hectares.
- Brook family: 3 million hectares
David Brook and his family are organic agriculture enthusiasts who own and operate farms in southern Queensland and South Australia. Their holdings total 3 million hectares according to the OBE Organic Group, which is a conglomerate of farms owned by families across Australia and comprising more than 8 million hectares. Brook is founding director and chairman of the organization, as well as a shareholder.
- Hughes family: 3.14 million hectares
The Hughes family owns 3.14 million hectares of land in Queensland where they have been running their family cattle business since 1872. Their company, the Hughes Pastoral Company, is known to be one of the largest and most profitable beef-producing enterprises in the world, with a focus on the premium Wagyu cut.
Recently, in June 2021, the company made a record-breaking purchase of the Miranda Downs cattle station for AUS$180 million ($131m). This acquisition added 438,000 hectares to their existing holdings, bringing their total land ownership to around 3,138,000 hectares. This purchase also marked the largest amount of money ever paid for a single pastoral holding in Australia.
- McDonald Family – 3.36 million hectares
The McDonald family has been farming in Australia since the early 19th century. In 2013, McDonald Holdings was running a total of 175,000 head of cattle over 3.36 million hectares in Queensland. The family’s MDH Pty organization still operates 14 properties across its millions of hectares.
- Williams Family – 4.5 million hectares
The Williams family’s eponymous cattle company acquired the gigantic Anna Creek Station in South Australia in 2016, which, at 1.57 million hectares, is the largest working cattle station in the world. The family also owns another six cattle stations and additional grazing land, which adds up to a total of 4.5 million hectares.
- MacLachlan Family – 6.2 million hectares
The Jumbuck Pastoral Company, wholly operated by the descendants of patriarch H. P. MacLachlan, owned 5.7 million hectares of land as of 2016. It has since expanded its holdings with the purchase of Wave Hill Station in 2021, which comprises 1.25 million hectares.
- Oldfield and Costello Families: 7.2 million Hectares
Australian farmers Viv Oldfield and Donny Costello teamed up in 2018 to purchase Clifton Hills, a 1.65 million-hectare cattle station in South Australia. They later formed the joint venture Crown Point Pastoral, which expanded its holdings by acquiring three stations from Gina Rinehart, bringing their total landmass to 7.2 million hectares. As a result, the Oldfield and Costello families are now the largest private landowners in Australia.
- King Charles III: 2.7 billion Hectares
Queen Elizabeth II was the head of the British Commonwealth until her death in 2022, and during her reign, she was technically the legal owner of around 2.7 billion hectares of land across the globe. The Crown Estate includes prime chunks of London, vast tracts of agricultural land in rural Britain, and over 90% of the land in Canada, where King Charles III is now Head of State. However, the land cannot be sold by the reigning monarch and isn’t considered their private property.
In a world where land is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, the families and individuals we have highlighted in this article represent some of the most powerful and influential figures on the planet. From the Inuit people of Nunavut to the Catholic Church, these landowners have managed to acquire vast swathes of real estate, giving them immense power and influence over the regions they control. Whether they acquired their land through inheritance, investment or sheer hard work, there is no denying that these families and individuals have left an indelible mark on the world, shaping the landscapes we see around us and shaping the future of the planet for generations to come.