MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – A pair of Gulf Coast congressmen are asking questions about the amount of foreign-owned farmland in the U.S. and how it is tracked.
Representatives Jerry Carl (AL-01) and Steven Palazzo (MS-04) signed on to a letter from 130 House Republicans asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study regarding foreign investment in U.S. farmland and its impact on national security, trade and food security.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report found that foreign entities owned 37.6 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2020, representing 2.9% of all privately held agricultural land. Alabama has the third-highest total acres owned by foreign entities, 1.8 million. 6.2% of all agricultural land in the state is foreign-owned.
Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom are the most frequent investors, but the letter says China and Saudi Arabia have increased their investment in U.S. farmland.
At least 14 states, including Mississippi, have imposed restrictions or constraints on foreign ownership of U.S. farmland, such as the size of land-holdings and limits on leases.
“Concerns about national security, including a Chinese company’s purchase of farmland in North Dakota near an Air Force base that is home to top-secret drone technology, drive fears of foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land,” the letter states.
Some lawmakers, researchers, and industry groups have expressed concern that these ownership agreements could lead to foreign control over food production and food prices.
The Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) “requires that a foreign person who acquires, disposes of, or holds an interest in United States agricultural land must disclose such transactions and holdings to the Secretary of Agriculture.”
A 2020 study by an Auburn University researcher found AFIDA does not guarantee that all foreign entities report ownership to the federal government. Many get around reporting by keeping holdings under a limited liability company (LLC).
For the entities that do report to the federal government, an April report by Investigate Midwest found the government’s database to be incomplete and erroneous. 3.1 million acres do not have an owner listed. Other land held by major foreign companies was not listed.
“If you’re happy with Bayer/Monsanto — a German corporation — being your farmer. Or Saudi Arabia. Or China. Then OK,” Joe Maxwell, president of advocacy group Farm Action, told InvestigateMidwest. “But if you’re not OK with that, then you ought to care about this issue. We ought to make sure the next generation of farmers are individuals who will care for the land for future generations and care about producing safe and healthy food for their neighbors.”
Over 547,000 acres in the WKRG viewing area are listed by the federal government as being foreign-owned.
|County||Number of Acres||Owner’s Country|
|Baldwin County, AL||108,000||Austria, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, United Kingdom|
|Clarke County, AL||13,823||Canada, Luxembourg|
|Conecuh County, AL||100,196||Canada, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, United Kingdom|
|Escambia County, AL||40,288||Canada, Italy, Netherlands|
|Mobile County, AL||22,808||Canada, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden|
|Monroe County, AL||140,423||Canada, Cayman Islands, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom|
|Washington County, AL||87,096||Canada, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom|
|Escambia County, FL||10,753||Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom|
|Okaloosa County, FL||7,872||Netherlands, Panama, Switzerland, Turks and Caicos Islands|
|Santa Rosa County, FL||11,913||Netherlands, Panama, Switzerland|
|George County, MS||4,292||Ireland|
|Greene County, MS||70||Germany|
Lawmakers are now asking GAO to report back with answers to the following questions:
- What is known about the extent of and trends in foreign investment in U.S. agricultural land (e.g., by country of investor, by state, by type of land)?
- How does the Farm Service Agency collect data on foreign investment in U.S. agricultural land and what steps are taken to ensure data reliability? How have USDA’s data collection methods changed since AFIDA was enacted in 1978?
- What procedures are in place to ensure proper disclosure of acquired agricultural land by a foreign person or entity and does USDA have a process to ensure accurate disclosure of the transfer or sale of such lands?
- Do the current standards for filing under AFIDA ensure that land acquired by a foreign person or entity through a U.S. chartered company or corporation is accurately disclosed as a foreign investment in agricultural land?
- How, if at all, does the U.S. government use the data on foreign investment in U.S. agricultural land to ensure the land is used for its intended purpose and does not pose a threat to national security?
- What improvements or policy options, including regarding national security, could be made to strengthen reporting of foreign investment in agricultural land?
- Are there other Departments or Agencies that USDA is or should be partnering with to ensure accurate disclosure of foreign owned agricultural land?