According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), foreign investment in cropland in the United States has roughly tripled in the last ten years.
In 2020, there were 10.9 million acres of agriculture under the hands of foreign interests, up from 4.1 million acres in 2010.
According to the USDA, this surge has been mostly caused by foreign-owned wind companies acquiring long-term leases on several acres. In contrast, “the acres actually utilized by said companies are very few due to the small footprint of the wind towers erected on the land,” according to a USDA analysis.
More than just crops are owned by foreign investors. Nearly 37.6 million acres of agricultural land, including pastures and forests, are owned or leased by them overall. That area makes up 2.9 percent of all privately owned agricultural land in the United States and is a little bit bigger than the state of Illinois. According to the USDA, this is an increase from the total of 24.2 million acres in 2010.
All foreign landowners and long-term tenants must disclose their holdings to USDA in accordance with the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act.
A FSA-153 report is used to submit the reports. The USDA publishes this data each year in an annual report that demonstrates where investment is increasing. Investigate Midwest was able to access a database that contained all of the data used to create the USDA report. The most recent data available is through 2019, even though the USDA has published a report for 2020.
There are large gaps in the database. More than 3.1 million acres are reported as having no owner. Spot checks reveal that several of the listed parcels are no longer under the owner’s control in the database. It’s not apparent whether the land is taken out of the database after it’s sold or a lease expires.
Even though the database frequently contains incomplete or inaccurate information, it still serves as a reliable indicator of the amount of land that is being leased or sold to foreign parties.
This rising investment level has prompted governmental intervention. Three measures that are currently before Congress would demand further vetting of foreign investment. In addition, 14 states limit or prevent foreign ownership of farms, while none do so openly, according to a Congressional Research Service memo from November.
One of the most prominent figures concerned about foreign ownership of agricultural land has been Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. As a representative, Grassley contributed to the creation of AFIDA, which was passed into law in 1978, and has repeatedly presented the bipartisan Food Security is National Security Act.
If farmland continues to be viewed as an investment, according to Grassley, young farmers in America may find it difficult to replace an aging farming population.
According to a Q-and-A Grassley posted on his website, “If deep-pocketed investors come in, whether foreign or not, it drives up prices and makes it harder for new and beginning farmers to get started.”