The acquisition of farmland by foreign entities has become a growing concern to a number of members of Congress. And purchases with ties to one nation in particular have spurred a sense of unease.

According to the USDA, Chinese agricultural land ownership increased by a modest 550 acres between 2015 and 2019. However, Chinese ownership saw a steep increase of 30% in the following year – from 247,000 acres to 352,000. In 2021, China acquired another 32,000 American agricultural acres.

One aspect of this development that concerns a number of legislators is the proximity of many of these parcels to locations important to American national security. The issue was brought to the forefront of the concerns of a number of congressional representatives in January when Fufeng Group Ltd., which is headquartered in China’s Shandong Province, attempted to build a corn mill on land close to a North Dakota Air Force Base. Officials called it a security risk.

Concerns became even more pronounced after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down in February – and as more “unidentified flying objects” are noted. The balloon incident increased worries that foreign governments could use land they own in the U.S. as a foothold for espionage efforts.

The USDA requires foreign entities that purchase agricultural land in the U.S. to file a report within 90 days disclosing what they bought. However, the USDA failed to penalize foreign parties for violating reporting rules from 2015 to 2018. The department cited insufficient staffing for the lapse in enforcement.

Foreign ag land ownership a growing concern

Elise Stefanik (R-NY)

In addition to the potential threat to U.S. military installations, there is also the possibility of an equally dangerous threat to American food security, say some officials.

“Food security is national security, and I am demanding answers for why USDA failed to do its job to protect U.S. agricultural land from our foreign adversaries,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) told Country Folks. “Our nation is currently faced with the increasing threat of foreign adversaries like China undermining our food security. The USDA’s failure of due diligence is inexcusable. There must be accountability, so we do not cede any awareness or ownership of our food supply to foreign actors working against the United States.”

Foreign land ownership has been reported to the USDA in all 50 states, but certain states have a much higher concentration of it than others. Texas has the most foreign owned land, with 4.4 million acres. Maine (at 3.3 million acres) and Alabama (at 1.8 million acres) round out the top three.

Reach out to your members of Congress and your Representatives with comments, questions or concerns so they have that support to move forward with any legislation regarding this issue.

by Enrico Villamaino