Ag Policy Blog

GAO Looks at USDA's Tracking of Foreign Land Ownership

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at how local USDA offices handle the forms for foreign land ownership and how USDA tracks those records and provides that information to the public and other government agencies. USDA often relies on a paper trail and doesn't get all of the potential land sales to foreign entities. (DTN file photo)

USDA doesn't know the overall extent of foreign landowners who do not file the proper forms declaring their ownership or investment in agricultural land.

USDA also essentially has people fill out forms on foreign land holdings on paper at county offices and sends those forms to USDA's headquarters where they are keyed in, and subject to a lot of basic human errors along the way.

Following a letter from House chairman and members of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked into how USDA collects data on foreign ownership of agricultural land under the 1978 Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act, known as AFIDA.

Foreign ownership of farmland continues to be a hot topic and now not a week goes by without new legislation proposals or executive action in the states. A great deal of the push is driven by a focus on China.

See, "The Simmering Debate Over How to Handle Foreign Ownership of Ag Land,"…

Nationally, 3.4% of agricultural land is foreign owned or about 43.4 million acres. USDA's latest report released in December showed foreign investors acquired 3.4 million acres in 2022. Timber or forest land makes up nearly 21 million acres, or 48.3% of the foreign-interest land, followed by crop land at 12.28 million acres, or 28.3%, and pasture at 9.2 million acres, or 21.3%.

USDA officials want data from CFIUS tied to agriculture, but GAO investigators also noted, "USDA does not regularly share AFIDA data with CFIUS agencies on a timely basis to be useful for CFIUS reviews."

The GAO report also looked at how USDA works with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS)

USDA releases its AFIDA reports once a year on-line, the Foreign Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land report. But the Defense Department officials said they need that information more than once a year and "they (DOD) need information that is more up-to-date and more specific to help them identify relevant non-notified transactions and consider potential national security risks."

Last March, USDA officials also provided a briefing and presentation to Defense officials about land holdings by China, including specific locations and a list of all company holdings in the U.S.

USDA also is now keeping a real-time of AFIDA filings from investors who are connected to China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. More details on this information will be released in the 2023 report.

USDA now shares any filings from investors from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea with the Department of Defense and the FBI. Still, USDA staff have to manually scan forms and email them to other agencies.

There are quirks in how data and ownership are reported. For instance, if someone from the Cayman Islands had 51% interest in U.S. agricultural land, but someone from Russia held the other 49%, the Russian ownership might not be reported.

USDA doesn't sufficiently verify or conduct audit reviews to track the accuracy of foreign holdings in the country.

USDA has requested funding to develop a real-time data system that can be accessed by other government agencies and the public. Such a portal, if funded, could be used to share data with officials from Defense or other agencies.

USDA officials also estimate it would take roughly $25 million to create a public database that includes all historical disclosures.

USDA officials also raised issues during congressional hearings about the resources needed to improve its reporting and tracking of foreign land ownership. Lawmakers want more actions from USDA on the subject, but they haven't authorized any higher funding levels.

The full report can be read at

Corn Growers Disappointed in Latest Tariff Decision on Fertilizer

The National Corn Growers Association on Thursday stated the group is "deeply disappointed" by the International Trade Commission sticking with it earlier ruling that found subsidies for Moroccan phosphate companies negatively injured U.S. fertilizer companies.

As NCGA and other groups have pointed out, the phosphate tariffs coincided with "rising on-farm fertilizer prices that went on to reach record highs."

The U.S. Court of International Trade had ruled last fall that the U.S. Commerce Department and International Trade Commission (ITC) should reconsider its earlier decision.

"The idea that major fertilizer conglomerates were materially injured even as they were posting substantially higher profits during the time in question sounds dubious to me," said Harold Wolle, a Minnesota farmer and NCGA president. "ITC's decision flies in the face of the U.S. Court of International Trade's request to seriously reconsider this issue and ignores the negative impact these tariffs continue to have on America's farmers who are facing higher prices for fertilizers that are critical to the success of their crops. We will continue to make a vigorous case for eliminating or lowering these tariffs."

The ITC's decision comes almost a week after the Commerce Department announced it was lowering duties on Moroccan phosphate products from 19.97% to 7.41%, NCGA stated the ITC's decision "introduces uncertainty on the fate of tariffs as it could be used as an argument to keep tariffs on phosphate fertilizers high."

To keep this argument going, NCGA stated the U.S. Court of International Trade will now review the remand decisions and issue a final ruling. The Department of Commerce is also set to make another decision regarding its administrative review later this year.

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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