A pair of senators have introduced bipartisan legislation that would demand more reporting on foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land.
Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced the "Farmland Security Act," to require more disclosure by foreign entities about the purchase of U.S. farmland. The bill would require USDA to increase reporting on foreign investments in the U.S., "including the impact foreign ownership has on family farms, rural communities and the domestic food supply." USDA also would be required to develop an interactive public database with real-time updates on disclosures of foreign land purchases.
USDA releases an annual report based on a 1978 law, but the report is typically behind in its information. The last report released looked at 2020.
As of the end of 2020, foreign investors "held an interest" in nearly 38.3 million acres of farm and forest land, up about 2.4 million acres from 2019. USDA noted that foreign holdings in agricultural land have accelerated since 2015 and average roughly 2.2 million acres of additional land purchases per year.
Forestry is the largest area of foreign land holdings at about 17.8 million acres. Cropland accounts for about 10.9 million acres and pasture takes up nearly 7.2 million acres. Other uses account for about 2.5 million acres.
The senators cited the acceleration of foreign land purchases in a news release, adding that the information is incomplete as well. The news release stated, "investigators estimate that foreign ownership of land is nearly double current figures." The senators' staffs did not attribute the source that information.
Baldwin stated, "I am proud to advocate for our agriculture industry by introducing the American Farmland Security Act. This bipartisan legislation will provide the tools we need to protect the longevity of American family farm operations for generations to come."
Grassley added, "I've been sounding the alarm on the increase in foreign-own farmland for decades and was the original author of the Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act. Foreign buyers, especially those backed by governments like China, buying up prime farmland here in the U.S. raises serious national security concerns – and the American people have a right to know about it. By requiring the USDA to report these purchases in real-time, we can keep better track of the impact these acquisitions could have on our rural communities. The Farmland Security Act will also help protect domestic food production and our national security interests."
China is often the object of lawmakers when it comes to foreign agricultural ownership. As DTN has reported, a 370-acre land purchase for a potential corn mill just outside of Grand Forks, N.D., has raised concerns because of the vicinity of the Grand Forks Air Force Base. A Chinese company, Fufeng Group, is leading the project. North Dakota officials have called on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CIFIUS) to review the project.
See, "Ag Risks Over China's US Projects," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
The USDA foreign landholdings report from 2020 shows Chinese investors own 266 parcels of land totaling 194,179 acres. Joint U.S-Chinese projects also combine for another 157,961 acres.
Overall, Canada is the largest country with foreign ownership of agricultural and non-agricultural land at 12.4 million acres. Netherlands, Italy, United Kingdome and Germany collectively account for about 12 million acres.
Texas is the biggest state with foreign-held agricultural land at more than 4.7 million acres. Maine is the second largest at 3.5 million acres -- accounting for roughly 19.5% of Maine's agricultural land, the highest percentage of foreign ownership nationally. Alabama comes in third at 1.8 million acres.
USDA's 2020 report on foreign land holdings
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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