Story by Emily Washburn, Forbes Staff
Chinese purchases of U.S agricultural land sparked concern in Congress among a bipartisan group of lawmakers—but 18 other countries own more American agricultural acres than China.
The Department of Agriculture requires foreign entities who buy U.S. agricultural land to file a report within 90 days disclosing what they bought.
Citing staff shortages, the Department of Agriculture didn’t penalize foreign parties for violating reporting rules from 2015 to 2018, prompting 28 lawmakers to criticize the department’s “complete lack of accountability and oversight” Monday in a letter obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
Two bills introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate argue foreign influence on American agricultural land could affect America’s economy, food supply, and national security.
Concern about Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural land increased in late January when the China-based Fufeng Group Ltd. was prevented from building a cornmill on land close to a North Dakota Air Force base after officials called it a security risk.
The Chinese spy balloon shot down February 4 increased worries that foreign governments could use U.S. land for espionage efforts, reports the Journal.
China owns roughly 384,000 acres of U.S. agricultural land, according to a 2021 report from the Department of Agriculture. Of that, 195,000 acres, worth almost $2 billion when purchased, are owned by 85 Chinese investors, which could be individuals, companies or the government. The other 189,000 acres were worth $235 million when purchased and are owned by 62 U.S. corporations with Chinese shareholders. Chinese agricultural land ownership only increased about 550 acres from 2015 to 2019. Then ownership jumped 30% from 2019 to 2020, from some 247,000 acres to roughly 352,000. U.S. companies with Chinese shareholders more than doubled their acreage that year, accounting for 102,000 acres of the growth. China acquired another 32,000 U.S. agricultural acres in 2021—not as much as they scooped up in 2020, but 98% higher than their combined growth between 2015 and 2019.
Of the 109 countries that own U.S. agricultural land, China ranks No. 18, far behind No. 1 Canada (12.8 million acres) and even and the Cayman Islands (672,000).
Countries Who Own The Most Acres U.S. Agricultural Land
- Canada (12,845,000 acres)
- Netherlands (4,875,000)
- Italy (2,703,000)
- United Kingdom (2,538,000)
- Germany (2,269,000)
- Portugal (1,483,000)
- France (1,316,000)
- Denmark (856,000)
- Luxembourg (802,000)
- Ireland (760,000)
Bill Gates owns almost as much U.S. agricultural land as China at 248,000 acres, according to The Land Report. Though the magazine named him the largest private farmland owner in January 2021, the Microsoft founder came under fire in early 2022 when he was briefly barred from purchasing 2,100 acres of North Dakota farmland. Conspiracy theorists suggested Gates was buying up millions of acres of U.S. farmland for nefarious reasons, according to the fact-checking service Snopes, with some claiming that Gates owned 80% of all U.S. farmland. Gates continues to deny any plot, telling Reddit users in January that he owns less than one four-thousandths of U.S. farmland and invests in farms to improve their production and create jobs.
Gates is No. 41 on The Land Report’s 2022 list of Americans who own the most land. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos comes in at No. 24 with 420,000 acres, which forms the site of his suborbital spaceflight company, Blue Origin.
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What to Watch For
The FARM—Foreign Adversary Risk Management—act, introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate on January 25, would trigger a Department of Agriculture and Government Accountability Office investigation into foreign influence on America’s agriculture industry. The House Bill is being reviewed by the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Agriculture. The Senate Bill is being reviewed by the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.