Reporters from a non-profit investigative journalism organization have discovered that, over the last ten years, foreign investments in American farmlands have tripled.
Just The News reports that the group Investigate Midwest came to this conclusion by analyzing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This trend can present a number of national security threats, according to Farm Action co-founder Joe Maxwell.
“The real question is, who do the people of the United States want to be their farmer?” Maxwell asked. “Do they want Saudi Arabia, Canada, China, other countries to be their farmer? Do they want Bayer or Cargill or other large corporations to be their farmer?”
The revelations build off of previously-expressed concerns in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed the fragility of the international supply chain and thus heightened the risk of shortages and other crises in the United States. Maxwell said that Farm Action has been lobbying Congress for greater surveillance of foreign investments in American farms.
Such investors, Maxwell says, are not making these purchases for the production value of the land or for the primary purpose of producing food for the population. Instead, such foreign corporations and hedge funds are buying these lands purely as monetary investments. To make matters worse, foreign companies buying up farmland that is ready for use will only drive up the prices of land overall, thus making it harder for American farmers to buy their own land to get started.
“The only way young farmers can get started is if the bank sees that they can make money off that land by producing food and feed,” Maxwell explained. Hedge fund managers, meanwhile, are simply buying the lands just to balance out their portfolios.
Maxwell and others have been advocating for Congress to pass laws cracking down on the ability of foreigners to purchase American farmlands; one such bill that has failed to pass is the Food Security is National Security Act, a bill introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Currently, although there is a federal law ordering all foreign entities to disclose foreign ownership to the USDA, there is no limit on the amount of land that such foreigners can purchase.
Investigate Midwest determined that at least 3.1 million acres of American farmlands are owned by entities that have not been identified in public records. Foreign ownership of these lands is largely concentrated on a handful of countries in particular: Canada owns the largest plurality of such land, consisting mostly of forests, at 29 percent. The Netherlands own 14 percent, Italy owns 7 percent, and the United Kingdom and Germany both own 6 percent each.