Foreign Investors Buying Up American Farmland

Josh McGillAgriculture, Land

Much of what’s happening in the world today has reminded us of the importance of self-sufficiency. With world supply chains in chaos due to COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, the term home-grown takes on an especially relevant note.

Photo by Frances Gunn on Unsplash

We are blessed in the United States with the capability to feed and clothe ourselves. We have millions of acres that are suitable for agricultural production. We also have other natural resources that we can tap into in order to become energy independent — if we choose to. Surging fuel prices are a stark reminder of this.

That brings me to another trend — foreign investment in U.S. cropland — that hasn’t captured headlines like food and energy prices have lately. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), foreign-owned cropland has tripled in the past decade. Farmland in the United States controlled by foreign interests was 10.9 million acres in 2020. That’s up from 4.1 million acres in 2010.

This increase has been largely fueled by foreign-owned wind companies that have signed long-term leases on a large number of acres, according to USDA data. These investors have been spurred on by tax credits in our march toward net-zero green energy.

If you look beyond cropland, the numbers are bigger. Foreign investors own or lease about 37.6 million acres of agricultural lands, including forests and pastures. This is up from 24.2 million acres in 2010.

The uptick in turning over the land that allows us to be self-sufficient in feeding our population has alarmed lawmakers. Currently, there are three bills in Congress that would require additional review of foreign investment in farmland. In addition, 14 states restrict foreign ownership of farmland, though none strictly forbid it. In Florida, there are no restrictions.

Foreign investors have plenty of money and are competing with U.S. farmers for land. That worries Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who says young farmers will have a harder time replacing our currently aging generation of farmers if they must compete with wealthy foreign interests.

“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,” Grassley noted.

I am a free-market believer, but when it comes to our food security, we need to support American agriculture first. At the very least, we need to have a clear understanding of how much foreign investment there is in our cropland, where the money is coming from and what’s happening with that land.

Under the Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act, all foreign investment in farmland must be reported to USDA. The database that holds this information apparently is full of errors and incomplete information. That’s something that should be fixed so we truly understand where we stand. 

As Grassley noted, “Food security is national security. If foreign buyers, especially those backed by government regimes, are buying up prime farmland in America as a strategy to dominate food production, there’s obvious concerns about protecting our ability to feed our own people.”

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