Ag Policy Blog

Iowa's New Foreign Land Ownership Law Gives State AG More Power

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Foreign owners of land in Iowa will face more reporting requirements and potential penalties under a new state law signed Tuesday by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. The new law gives state investigators authority to subpoena a broad array of records over ownership and sales transactions. (DTN file photo)

The Iowa Attorney General now has power to subpoena land records from buyers of farmland in the state under a new law requiring foreign landowners to provide more ownership details to state officials.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, on Tuesday signed a new foreign ownership law requiring more registration and reporting for foreign landowners of agricultural land.

"Iowa's laws on foreign ownership of land have long been recognized as some of the strongest in the nation, with other states looking to us when crafting their own policies. Yet, in the decades since we first addressed this issue, adversaries like China have grown significantly more aggressive on the world stage, constantly looking for any opening to assert themselves at the expense of our country," Reynolds said. "One all-too-common weapon in this battle is the purchase of American farmland."

Concerns about Chinese land ownership has prompted states to look for new ways to clamp down on foreign ownership of agricultural land.

In Iowa, foreign landowners from Canada and Italy will be affected most by the new law. Iowa has just under 520,000 acres under foreign ownership, of which nearly 199,000 acres are owners from Canada and 104,000 acres are owners from Italy, according to USDA's report latest report on foreign agricultural land ownership.

When it comes to Chinese landholdings in Iowa, USDA shows Syngenta Seeds LLC owns 281 acres in Boone County, Iowa. Syngenta's parent company is ChemChina, which bought the seed company in 2017.

Last October Arkansas officials used a new state reporting law to order Syngenta Sees to pay a $280,000 penalty -- 25% of the land value -- for failing to file paperwork on its land holdings in a timely manner. Arkansas officials issued a letter ordering Syngenta to sell the 160 acres within two years.

The Iowa law requires any "nonresident alien, foreign business, or foreign government, or an agent, trustee or fiduciary thereof" to file a form with the Iowa Secretary of State's office.

The Iowa Attorney General's office now may conduct an inquiry or investigation into violation of the state's foreign ownership law. As part of those investigations, the Iowa AG may issue a subpoena for records on a property and its management such as books, accounts, papers, correspondence, memoranda, purchase agreements, files or other documents. If landowners refuse, Iowa's attorney general can go to a state court to force a landowner to turnover those records.

"Iowa farmland belongs in the hands of Americans," said Iowa AG Brenna Bird. "Today's bill signing ensures valuable Iowa farmland will be protected from foreign adversaries and that my office has the tools it needs to investigate violations. While Iowa's laws are already strong, this extra line of defense will make them even stronger. I thank Governor Reynolds for leading to protect Iowa farmland, and the Iowa legislature for propelling this bill across the finish line. I encourage anyone who has information about foreign ownership of farmland to call my office so that we can get to the bottom of it."

Foreign owners will have to fill out a form now detailing their name, birthplace and nationality of exactly who owns interest in agricultural land as well as who will supervise the daily operations of the agricultural land and the purpose of the business or persons for conducting business in Iowa. People or companies with interests held directly or indirectly will be required for properties larger than 250 acres.

Failure to comply with the reporting requirements could lead to a civil penalty up to 25% of the county's assessed value for the agricultural ground.

Beyond filing the initial paperwork, foreign landowners also would have to file biennial reports with the Iowa Secretary of State's office as well. The failure to file a report could lead to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each offense.

USDA's report on foreign ownership for 2022 https://www.fsa.usda.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

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