Foreigners Bought 3 Million Acres of U.S. Farmland Last Year, Now Control 2% Of The U.S.

USDA says foreign-owned wind energy projects account for much of the increase.
Windmills at farm against dramatic sky during sunset - stock photo
Cavan Images via Getty Images

Foreigners bought 3.4 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2020, and now own or lease nearly two percent of the entire US landmass, according to new federal data.

“Foreign persons held an interest in over 43.4 million acres of U.S. agricultural land as of December 31, 2022,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a report released this month. “This is an increase of over 3.4 million acres from the December 31, 2021 report and represents 3.4 percent of all privately held agricultural land … and nearly 2 percent of all land in the United States.”

Interest in U.S. farmland from other countries was once rare, but has skyrocketed in recent years, apparently largely because of foreign-controlled wind energy farms. “Foreign holdings of U.S. agricultural land increased modestly from 2012 through 2017, increasing an average of 0.6 million per year. Since 2017, foreign holdings have increased an average of nearly 2.9 million acres annually, ranging from 2.4 million acres to over 3.4 million acres per year,” USDA said.

Citizens of the United Arab Emirates controlled 46,496 acres; Venezuelans 28,218; Saudis 18,586; Egyptians 17,645; firms tied to Iran 2,463, Syrians 2,574; Pakistanis 1,677; Cuban investors controlled 848 acres; and Russians 73 acres. One firm listing its country as the “State of Palestine” had possession of 11,381 acres.

The annual report comes days after Congress sent the president a defense bill that, at the last minute, removed provisions aimed at clamping down on the practice.

In 2022, a Chinese food manufacturer called the Fufeng Group bought 300 acres about 20 minutes from an Air Force base in North Dakota that is “the backbone of all U.S. military communications across the globe.” The top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee both opposed the move.

South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds introduced an amendment to this year’s defense funding act that would block China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea from buying farmland. The Senate passed the amendment 91-7.

The Republican-controlled House included only a milder version of the amendment. Yet when the National Defense Authorization Act came out of the reconciliation committee, which normally irons out differences between the two chambers’ bills, the final text removed not only the Senate amendment, but also the House one requiring the Department of Defense to write a report on the issue. The bill was sent to the president last week.

Allowing foreign countries, including adversaries like China, to buy one of America’s most precious resources has garnered bipartisan outrage.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) told The Daily Wire that the country “can’t allow this to continue.”

“At best, this serves the interests of the companies and other countries, not America’s,” Cotton said. “At worst, these purchases undermine our security.”

He added that with many American farmers reaching retirement age, there is a threat of the trend getting even worse.

In September, the Senate Committee on Agriculture held a hearing on the topic, where Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) said, “I hope many of our colleagues agree, the Chinese government and other U.S. adversaries should own zero, zero agricultural land in our country.”

“They’re taking back our pandas. We should take back all of their farmland,” Fetterman said, referring to panda bears being returned from U.S. zoos. “Small farmers… face enough hardships, and they don’t need to compete with foreign governments buying our land.”

The foreigners usually owned the land but sometimes leased it. The land was roughly evenly split between farmland and timber. More than one-fifth of Maine’s agricultural land was owned by foreigners, and Texas had the most foreign-held acreage, at 5.4 million acres. In both states, most of that was timber.

In 2022, foreign interests added more than half a million acres in Colorado and Alabama, and nearly that much in Michigan.

A third of the land was owned by Canadian investors, followed by the Netherlands, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

“China held 349,442 acres, which is slightly less than 1 percent of foreign-held acres,” the report said, but “there is considerable interest in this topic.” All of the by-country totals likely understate the true figure because they omit some cases where the land is jointly operated.

The Chinese government did not acknowledge directly purchasing any US farmland, but the acreage reflects land whose primary investors are Chinese.

“Two Chinese-owned companies — Brazos Highland Properties, LP and Murphy Brown LLC (Smithfield Foods) — reported 102,345 acres and 97,975 acres, respectively, and were by far the largest Chinese reporters. Other top Chinese-owned reporters were Murphy Brown of Missouri (Smithfield Foods) (42,716 acres); Harvest Texas, LLC (29,705 acres); and Walton International Group (USA), Inc. (29,437 acres),” the report said.

The amount of land controlled by Chinese-owned companies actually declined from the previous year from 195,000 acres to 187,000 acres, but is up more than 15-fold from 2006.

In the last ten years, the amount of cropland owned by foreign interests has increased from 5 million to nearly 13 million. The USDA said that was mostly due to foreign-controlled wind and solar energy firms, who buy large amounts of cropland and place windmills on a small portion.

About a quarter of the foreign-tied agricultural acreage was controlled by companies with “wind” in the name, and another three percent had “solar” in the name. There was a massive spike in the amount of foreign-controlled agricultural land being used for non-agricultural purposes, which would include windmills, and now totals nearly one million acres.

“The total amount of cropland intended to be used for non-agricultural purposes as of December 31, 2022, was 266,316 acres (32 percent) and the amount of pastureland intended to be used for nonagricultural purposes was 187,465 acres (20 percent),” it said.

In its 2021 report, USDA said that more than 1,000 counties had enacted prohibitions on foreign ownership of cropland, but that except in Iowa, some of the laws were “so vague as to be unenforceable.”

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Foreigners Bought 3 Million Acres of U.S. Farmland Last Year, Now Control 2% Of The U.S.