Senate Ag Committee dives into foreign ag land ownership

Foreign ag land ownership is getting attention at the federal level and legislation on it could be included in the next farm bill.

In a U.S. Senate Ag Committee hearing on Wednesday, Ranking Member John Boozman said lawmakers want to better understand the issue.

“This topic has been brought to the committee’s attention on numerous occasions,” said Boozman.

The concern is foreign countries might be purchasing U.S. farmland with an ulterior motive. As an example: in the last three years, a Chinese-owned company attempted to build a corn wet mill 20 minutes from an air force base in eastern North Dakota, but the project ended because of national security concerns.

David Ortega with Michigan State University, a witness at the hearing, said less than 1% of U.S. ag land is owned by China. He told Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow China’s investments in ag land has mostly bypassed North America.

“We’re seeing China invest in farmland in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, eastern Europe and Russia,” he said. “They’re really looking at acquiring agribusiness, including Smithfield and ChemChina’s takeover of Syngenta, and that’s to exhort more control over the import food supply chain.”

Other witnesses said updates were needed to the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act, a nationwide system used to collect foreign ag land ownership data, but the updates will be costly and should be thorough.

Ortega said before lawmakers take the next steps, they should be aware of unintended consequences, including retaliation from other countries and damage to trading relationships.

Several bills have already been introduced in the U.S. Senate to tackle foreign ag land ownership concerns. Stabenow said it’s a complicated issue and lawmakers will need to come together to find the right path forward for a solution.

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