Foreign-Owned Ag Land Grows 27M Acres

Cropland Leads Way in Decade's Growth in Ag Land Foreign Ownership

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Out of the 3,142 counties and parishes in the U.S., 79% of them have at least one foreign investor in agricultural land, according to federal data. (Graphic courtesy American Farm Bureau Federation)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Foreign investor-held U.S. agriculture land has increased by about 27 million acres since federal data was made public starting in 1978, according to a new American Farm Bureau Federation analysis, with U.S. cropland showing the most growth in foreign ag land ownership since 2010.

This past year Congress added language to several bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, aimed at preventing certain foreign ag investments.

Foreign purchases of ag land have become a hot button in Congress after plans by Chinese-based company Fufeng to build a corn mill near the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota were halted by Grand Forks officials.

The overall foreign-held ag acres show an increase from 1% of total privately held agricultural land in the U.S. to 3.1%, according to the AFBF analysis from Nov. 2, 2023.

"Between 2010 and 2021, foreign investor-held agricultural land increased 15.8 million acres, with cropland increasing at the highest percent (182%) with an additional 7.5 million acres, forestland increasing the highest numerically at 8.6 million acres (80%) and other ag land declining 3% or 240,000 acres," the analysis found.

According to the latest Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act report from 2021 updated this year, the highest increases in foreign investor-held ag acres between 2020 and 2021 were Texas, Arkansas and North Carolina.

Texas saw an increase of almost 549,000 acres, Arkansas at 250,000 and North Carolina at 247,000 acres.

"Forty-three percent of the overall increase in acreage between 2020 and 2021 is attributed to these three states," AFBF said in its report.

Iowa, Utah and Hawaii are the only states that reported decreases in foreign-held ag acres by 52,000 acres. The report said the decline "reflects long-term leaseholds that were terminated and the sale of various types of agricultural land."


AFBF said the top 10 entities that reported foreign investor-held ag land in acres hold 7.22 million acres of U.S. ag land. That amounts to 0.6% of all U.S. ag land and 18% of foreign-held ag land.

"Only a limited few involve land used in crop production and the vast majority correspond to nations considered very friendly to U.S. interests," the analysis said.

Seven of the top 10 entities are timber or "timber-adjacent" industry participants, AFBF said.

"This includes two Canada-based timber companies which own 1.11 million acres and 963,600 acres in northern Maine, respectively; a Netherlands-based timber company which holds over 748,000 acres across South Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana; an Ireland-based corrugated packaging company that holds 617,000 acres across Florida, Alabama and Georgia; a third Canada-based timber company which holds 352,000 acres in Texas; a Sweden-based timber company which holds 300,000 acres in Texas; and a fourth Canada-based timber company which holds an additional 297,000 acres in Maine," the report said.

The largest single foreign entity is a multinational power generation development company with 1.709 million acres across 25 states.

"Though the energy company is a U.S.-based entity, in 2013 Quebec's public pension fund manager invested heavily in the company's portfolio of wind farms, making Canada the prominent investor for the nearly 2 million acres of corresponding wind energy generation land," AFBF said.


Though much of the focus on the issue in Congress has centered on China, the latest data shows China is ranked 18th in ag land ownership in the U.S. at 383,000 acres. That amounts to less than 1% of total foreign-owned ag land.

"By acreage, about 192,000 acres (50%) of Chinese investor-held U.S. agricultural land are located in Texas, 49,000 acres (13%) in North Carolina, 43,000 acres (11%) in Missouri, 34,000 acres (9%) in Utah and the remaining 17%, or 66,000 acres, scattered across 24 other states," AFBF said.

AFBF also conducted an analysis of foreign ownership at the county and parish level across the U.S.

It found that out of the 3,142 counties and parishes, 79% of them have at least one foreign investor.

"In 2,041 counties, or 65% of counties, foreign investors own between 1 and 19,999 acres of land," AFBF said.

"Only 18 counties, or 0.01% of all counties, have over 200,000 acres of agricultural land held by foreign investors. The top four are in northern Maine with Canada-based investors. A little over 20% of Maine's privately held agricultural land is held by foreign investors, which makes up 9% of total foreign-held ag land. Hawaii has the second-largest percentage of foreign-held U.S. agricultural land, which is 9.2% of the privately held agricultural land in the state."

The analysis said about 11.8 million acres of cropland, or 29% of all ag land, was reportedly owned by foreign interests in 2021.

"Of the top eight states with the highest concentrations of foreign investor-held land, only two (Colorado and Oklahoma) have cropland as their largest foreign-held land category, with investors primarily from Canada, Italy and Germany," AFBF said.

Congressional efforts generally have focused on limiting so-called adversarial nations from owning ag land.

"The list of current adversarial nations as defined by the Department of State also includes the Republic of Cuba, Islamic Republic of Iran, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), the Russian Federation and Venezuela under the Maduro Regime," AFBF said.

"Combined, investors from these additional nations hold about 95,000 acres of agricultural land in the United States, corresponding to 0.007%. Venezuelan investors make up nearly 95% of this total with about 90,000 acres across 17 states."

Read the AFBF analysis here:…

Read more on DTN:

"Farm Bill May Address China Land Buys,"…

"House Seeks to Halt Chinese Land Buys,"…

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