The issue of who owns American farmland is an intensely debated topic, with concerns ranging from national security risks to proposals of limiting foreign farmland ownership.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent report on foreign entities illustrates an 8 percent growth last year in farmland owned by foreign entities. Still, only 3.4 percent of U.S. farmland is held under foreign ownership.
There were 3.4 million acres of U.S. farmland purchased by foreigners last year, primarily located in Colorado, Alabama, and Michigan.
While Canadian investors still own the largest amount of reported foreign-held agriculture and non-agriculture land, China holds less than 1 percent of foreign-held land (394,442 acres).
Despite their small percentage of ownership, there’s considerable interest in the topic of Chinese-owned land. Brazos Highland Properties, LP and Murphy Brown LLC (Smithfield Foods) reported 102,345 acres and 97,975 acres, respectively — the largest Chinese reporters.
Other Chinese-owned reporters were Murphy Brown of Missouri (also Smithfield Foods), Harvest Texas LLC, and Walton International Group. Together, these five companies accounted for 86 percent of all Chinese holdings.
There are no filings directly by the Chinese government.
Since 2017, the rate at which land was sold to foreign companies has certainly increased by an average of 0.6 million acres per year to an average of nearly 2.9 million acres.
»Related: Who owns Iowa farmland? Too often, it’s not farmers
Updates to foreign reporting are on the way
On Friday, USDA also announced plans to update how it collects data with a proposal to update the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act Report form.
“USDA seeks to improve the information that we are collecting about foreign ownership and leasing of U.S. agricultural land,” said Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie. “This process, which includes public input on changes to the form, will lead to more insightful reporting to Congress and the public.”
The public can submit input through the Federal eRulemaking portal, docket FSA-2023-0017. All comments will be posted without change and will be publicly available here.
The proposed revisions to the FSA-153 Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act Report form will:
- Capture additional data on long-term lessees who are required to report their transactions to USDA.
- Propose to collect data to assess the impacts of foreign investment on producers and rural communities, as required by AFIDA.
- Ask filers to voluntarily provide data that will help identify their land locations geospatially.
The input collected from the public will assist in creating an electronic submission system for foreign filers and improve accuracy in data reporting.