Foreign investors control a state-sized chunk of US farmland
Several foreign countries and investment groups have quietly acquired land for agriculture in the United States over the past decade.
Foreign interests currently control 37.6 million acres of pasture, timber and farmland.
This equates to an area roughly the size of Iowa or Illinois.
Holdings of US farmland by foreign investors have increased 55% in 10 years, from 24.2 million acres controlled by outside nations and corporations in 2010.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), much of this increase has been attributed to foreign wind companies using a significant amount of land.
At the start of the pandemic, as businesses and homes closed, that number grew by 2.4 million acres from 2019 to 2020.
Russia, Iran, China and Mexico are listed as owners of US farmland, according to a November 2021 congressional report.
However, companies in Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, and the United Kingdom are the countries with the largest land holdings in America.
Canadian interests represent 10.4 million acres, the Netherlands 4.8 million and Italy 2.5 million.
Mexico has a spot on the top 10 list with US agricultural land ownership listed at 700,000 acres.
Additionally, two of the largest offshore banking centers in the world, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, each boast 600,000 acres.
The trio of investors – China, Russia and Iran – own a total of 200,000 acres of US farmland, with China being the largest owner with around 192,000 acres.
This leaves Russia and Iran with ownership of 8,000 acres of continental US soil.
Farmers take action
Meanwhile, American farmers are not sitting idly by while other nations and corporations buy up valuable farmland. Some are well aware of this trend and believe that the public needs to be better informed.
“I don’t think everyone really understands,” Mike Downey, partner at Next Generation Ag Advocates, told The Epoch Times.
Downey is a key member of “Next Gen,” which was founded in 2018 by two farmers concerned about the rise of consolidated agriculture in the United States.
The organization strives to match next-generation growers, or aspiring growers, with farms that don’t have a successor.
Keeping America’s family farms in private hands is their top priority.
A USDA statistic on their website claims that 70% of family farms will change hands in the next 15 years.
“We try to keep the farms in our community,” Downey said.
He noted that 68% of small farmers have no one to take over their business and that America can expect a “huge land ownership transition” over the next decade.
And with loose restrictions on foreign investment and ownership, many of these farms could be affected.
Stricter record keeping
It varies, but most US states have little or no restrictions on foreign land ownership.
Texas and Maine have the most lax regulations.
Consequently, these states also have the highest percentages of foreign-owned farmland at 4.4 million acres and 3.3 million acres, respectively.
Six states have restricted foreign ownership of farmland, including Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota and Oklahoma.
Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has been one of the most vocal lawmakers on regulating foreign ownership of US farmland.
Grassley helped draft the Foreign Agricultural Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA), which finally became law in 1978. He also introduced the Food Safety and National Security Act.
“If foreign buyers, especially those backed by government regimes, buy prime farmland in America as part of a strategy to dominate food production, there are obvious concerns about protecting our ability to feed our own people,” Grassley said on his website.
The senator echoed Downey’s sentiment about the change in ownership on US farms, explaining that it will be difficult to replace an aging farming population if agriculture remains a prime target for wealthy investors.
“If deep-pocketed investors come in, foreign or not, it drives up prices and makes it harder for new and beginning farmers to get started.” said Grassley.
Other senators, like Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have expressed interest in supporting federal legislation similar to the ban in Iowa, which currently has some of the nation’s strictest regulations on farmland ownership. .
Former Missouri Lieutenant Governor Joe Maxwell spent years lobbying states to put in place tighter controls on foreign investment in American farmland. He also argues that AFIDA’s disclosures are unreliable and that better monitoring is needed.
“We should know who is buying American farmland and for what purpose,” Maxwell told Investigate TV.
When it comes to buying farms, pastures, or forest lands in the United States, the USDA acts as both the gateway and custodian of these transactions.
A USDA spokesperson told The Epoch Times that AFIDA requires disclosure of foreign land purchases.
Part of this is done by submitting an FSA-153 form. Subsequently, the USDA then publishes this information as part of an annual report.
« The USDA [goal] is to accurately capture the data required by the AFIDA Act and report it to Congress and the public,” the spokesperson explained.
Still, Congress says there are gaps in that data, which has raised alarm bells for some, including Maxwell.
He has spent years lobbying states to put in place tighter controls on foreign investment in farmland.
And as commodity prices continue to climb, some believe this will only ignite a fire for foreign investors to keep buying US farmland.
“With everything going on with inflation, and now the war in Ukraine, there seems to be a growing interest in farmland,” Downey noted.
He added that when it comes to land, there is an old saying that fits the situation: they don’t do anything with it anymore.
And regarding loose state regulations on foreign land purchases, Downey said, “Some of the conversations we’ve had internally recently are ‘what are the teeth’ to enforce this?”
Steps taken to tighten the reins of foreign ownership include Bill 5490, which will require the USDA and the Government Accountability Office to conduct a detailed analysis and report to Congress on the extent of foreign influence in the American agricultural industry.
Additionally, the House farm appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022 will require the USDA to take action to “prohibit the purchase” of farmland by companies wholly or partly owned by China, China, and China. Russia, Iran and North Korea.