Claims that financial interests in the People’s Republic of China own 30 million acres of private US farmland are probably not true, according to the best information available.
But it is impossible to say exactly how much land the Chinese or any other foreign nationals own.
In 2021, the United States Department of Agriculture reported that Chinese interests owned 190,000 acres in the United States, out of more than 37 million with known foreign ownership at the end of 2020.
Almost half of it is forest.
By far the largest foreign landowners were Canadians, with 12.4 million acres, followed far behind by the Dutch and Italians.
So, based on these figures, it seems highly unlikely that China could have multiplied its holdings more than 15 times in 18 months, no matter how hard it tried.
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In Oklahoma, the USDA estimated foreign ownership at more than 1.5 million acres, or 4% of all farmland. Canadians own about half of it.
Oklahoma is among the states with the highest concentrations of foreign-owned land, and increasingly so.
The USDA reports that 383,000 acres of Oklahoma passed to foreign ownership in 2020, the most for any state.
The caveat is that no one really knows how much US farmland is owned by foreigners. A 1978 law requires foreign transactions to be reported to the federal government, but those who have reviewed it say such sales are difficult to track because they are so often masked by layers of legal camouflage.
Oklahoma’s constitution prohibits foreign ownership of farmland, but investors have found ways around the ban for decades, usually through multinational corporations.
The USDA’s 2020 report confirms the belief that foreign ownership — but not necessarily Chinese ownership — of US farmland is accelerating. From 2015 to 2020, foreign ownership grew by an average of 2.2 million acres per year, including 2.4 million in 2020 alone.
Foreign interests now own about 3% of US farmland.
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