America’s biggest global threat is buying up U.S. farmland, an acquisition binge that’s putting the nation’s food supply and national security at risk, lawmakers assert.
In a rare act of bipartisanship, members of Congress are looking to stop the sale of American agricultural land to buyers in Communist China and hold the Biden administration accountable for dropping another foreign policy ball.
Earlier this month, the House’s Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party held a primetime hearing on increasing threats posed by the communist super power. Among the rising concerns, the purchase of U.S. farmland by Chinese entities.
China-based buyers owned a sliver — about 1 percent — of all foreign-owned U.S. agricultural land in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the pace of China-based U.S. land acquisitions has quickened over the past decade, increasing 10-fold.
Particularly concerning was China-based Fufeng Group LTD’s purchase of farmland close to a U.S. Air Force base in Grand Forks, North Dakota. In late January, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said he would act swiftly to stop Fufeng Group’s proposed development of a corn mill, calling the proposal a national security risk.
“The Federal Government has requested the City’s help in stopping the Project as geo-political tensions have greatly increased since the initial announcement of the Project,” Bochenski said in a news release.
The same communist nation accused of flying a spy balloon over the Land of the Free had gobbled up nearly 400,000 acres of U.S. agriculture land as of 2021.
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.
It could be a lot more. The USDA has been roundly criticized for failing to properly oversee and track foreign acquisitions.
An Investigate Midwest investigation found more than 3.1 million acres without a reported owner listed in USDA’s annual report.
Not an acre more
“While the Chinese Communist Party has increased their takeover of American land, the USDA has dropped the ball on reporting requirements,” U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson (R-IA-02), a member of the Committee on China, said in a statement. “Strict oversight of foreign land acquisition is needed to protect family farms, rural communities, our food and energy supply, and our military installations from bad actors like the CCP.”
Hinson joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in a recent letter to the USDA seeking answers from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. An internal agency memo revealed USDA did not assess or follow through to penalize failures to report foreign acquisition of U.S. agricultural land between 2015 and 2018, which is required under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act. The department blamed challenges and turnover.
“The way I see it, we should not allow another acre of land to go into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” Hinson told the Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network. “Our goal is to come up with policies to push back on the CCP’s aggression. They are a threat to us.”
Iowa is one of several states that limits ag land sales to foreign businesses and foreign governments. Foreign investors owned about 550,000 acres, or less than 2 percent of all Iowa agriculture land, according to the most recent USDA report.
A few bills to protect U.S. farmland from adversary ownership are moving through congress. The Foreign Adversary Risk Management (FARM) Act would require the Committee on Foreign Investment to review any agricultural investment that could result in foreign control of U.S. agribusiness firms. It also would require investigations into threats to intellectual property around U.S. universities.
“American farmland belongs to American farmers – period,” said Hinson’s Iowa delegation colleague, U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra (R-IA-04). “… I have met with countless Iowans who are rightfully concerned that foreign countries like China are purchasing our farmland, infiltrating our country, and threatening our national and food security. That’s why I am proud to support the FARM Act to prevent foreign control of critical agricultural supply chains and food production and stop China’s reckless acquisition of Iowa farmland.”
Another bill, the Prohibition of Agricultural Land for the People’s Republic of China Act, would prohibit the purchase of public or private agricultural land in the United States by foreign nationals associated with the Government of the People’s Republic of China. It would also ban the same associations from participating in any United States Department of Agriculture programs except food safety inspections.
Lawmakers backing the land sale prohibitions say “food security is national security.”
“The United States is engaged in a great power struggle with the CCP, and we must respond with tough policies that will protect our farmland and food supply chain,” said Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04). “We should be taking every action we can to strengthen our domestic production while preventing our nation’s strongest adversaries from having an advantage over our supply chain. I am proud to introduce this legislation alongside many of my House colleagues to keep the CCP from gaining a foothold from within our own borders.”
Panel on China Holds Primetime Hearing Thursday
The Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party will hold its second hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23rd, The hearing is titled “The Chinese Communist Party’s Ongoing Uyghur Genocide.”
- Ms. Gulbahar Haitiwaji, Concentration Camp Survivor and Author, How I Survived a Chinese “Reeducation” Camp: A Uyghur Woman’s Story.
- Ms. Qelbinur Sidik, Human Rights Advocate and Concentration Camp Witness
- Dr. Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow and Director in China Studies, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
- Mr. Nury Turkel, Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
- Ms. Naomi Kikoler, Director. Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, United States Holocaust Museum
The event will be live-streamed on the Select Committee’s website.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.