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Sunday, October 1st, 2023

Agricultural Foreign Investment Transparency Act seeks increased scrutiny of foreign owners of U.S. agricultural land

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Through the introduction of the Agricultural Foreign Investment Transparency Act to the House this week, U.S. Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Rick Crawford (R-AR), along with nine other Republicans, seek to increase oversight of foreign purchases of U.S. agricultural land.

To do otherwise, they maintained, would be to open the doors to a potential national security threat. In arguing for changes to the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) of 1978, they pointed to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) findings that foreign ownership and investment in such land has nearly doubled in the last 10 years, including Chinese acquisitions of land near Department of Defense and other federal installations.

Put in perspective, the USDA added in 2020 that foreign interest in agricultural land amounted to 2.9 percent of all privately held agricultural land and 1.7 percent of all land in the United States – approximately 37.6 million acres. AFIDA was initially established to create a nationwide system for collecting information on such persons.

“Food security is national security, and we cannot allow our foreign adversaries to assert any control over our land or agriculture industry,” Stefanik said. “I am proud to shine a light on the malign influence of the Chinese and our other foreign adversaries who are buying up our land, undermining our farmers, and threatening our nation’s security. I will continue to work to prevent our foreign adversaries from taking any ownership or control of the United States’ agriculture industry.”

So far, no malign uses of these lands by the Chinese or other foreign entities have been identified or pursued, but the suspicion remains. As such, the new legislation would require the Secretary of Agriculture to make all new and existing AFIDA reports publicly available and expand the material reported to AFIDA to include security interests and land leases of any period, even idle land. Oversight and reporting measures would likewise increase for idle land, companies issuing equity securities for foreign trade, and all interests acquired, transferred, or held by foreigners.

Essentially, any purchase of agricultural properties by a non-American would be deemed suspicious and supervised.

“The recent increase in Chinese purchases of U.S. farmland demonstrates the need for more proactive legislation and government transparency of these purchases,” Crawford said. “This legislation would shine a light on American agricultural land controlled by entities in communist China and elsewhere so we can evaluate the risk to our national security and implement an effective response.”