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House committee votes to block China & others from U.S. farmland buys

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Foreign countries including China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran are facing a ban on farm purchases in the United States after an update to language from the House Appropriations Committee on the USDA-FDA funding bill.

The war in Ukraine is raging, inflation is at its highest point since 1981, food plants have burned down, and the buzzword of the year seems to be food security as news outlets discuss impending shortages. Meanwhile, foreign holdings on U.S. lands have doubled between 2009 and 2019.  

Recently, a voice vote by members of the committee cleared the $195.6 billion bill for floor debate in a 31-26 vote

“More needs to be done to ensure the U.S. food supply chain is secure and independent,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA). 

Last year, the House Appropriations Committee voted to add language to the bill that would prevent China from buying more U.S. farmland and claiming subsidies on what they own now. At that time, foreign entities held interest in 2.7 percent of privately-owned U.S. land. The proposal was revised following a request for a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. 

Currently, there is no law that restricts foreign persons from securing subsidies offered by crop and livestock insurance programs. Federal landowners, however, are not eligible for permanent disaster assistance programs. Some programs including the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program prohibits payment to foreign entities who are not resident aliens.

The only federal law that restricts foreign purchase of agricultural lands is the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978. AFIDA requires federal agricultural land owners to report farmland transactions to the USDA. Although AFIDA requires reporting, imposing fines of up to 25 percent of the value of the land, the last fine imposed was in 2014. 

Who owns land in the United States?

In 2020, foreign ownership of U.S. land increased by 2.4 million acres to include 37.5 million total acres. Over 40 percent of the growth was accounted for in Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. Canadian investors own 29 percent of the foreign-owned land in the United States. China, Russia, and Iran accounted for 0.2 million acres in 2019, 0.7 percent of all foreign-owned agricultural land. China held 60 percent of this total, which was attributable to its ownership of Smithfield Foods, which includes 140,000 acres. 

Image by FSA, USDA

»Related: Smithfield Foods will close hog processing facility in California

Alabama Rep. Robert Adeholt also said, “We’ve seen a surge in Chinese ownership, with farmers being pushed aside when land was offered for sale.” 

The United States owns over 9 million acres in other countries. Six states — Hawaii, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Mississippi, Minnesota, and Iowa — already have banned foreign ownership of farmland. Other states have placed restrictions on foreign purchases such as the amount of land owned and the allowable duration of land ownership. While no congruent federal law is currently in place, some of these states include Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. 

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