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Ernst, Stabenow Counter Chinese Acquisition of U.S. Agricultural Land

USDA’s current system has allowed foreign ownership of U.S. land to nearly double in last decade to over 37 million acres.

WASHINGTON – Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, are taking action to overhaul the current system that has allowed China’s malign influence to threaten American food security and national security by buying up agricultural land in the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), foreign ownership and investment in U.S. agricultural land has nearly doubled over the last decade. While Iowa has laws on the books protecting its agriculture security from foreign investment, Ernst and Stabenow are taking action as a response to reports of China threatening America’s food supply and posing an even greater national security risk by acquiring U.S. farmland near military installations.

“Food security is national security. China, our nation’s number one pacing threat, is buying the farm and encroaching on land surrounding military bases. America needs to know how our foreign adversary has been allowed to use loopholes to attempt to exploit any potential vulnerability and assert control over our agriculture industry. I’m taking decisive action today to overhaul the system that has allowed this national security threat and work to combat our foreign adversaries, especially the Chinese Communist Party’s malign actions in our own backyard,” said Senator Ernst, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Committee on Agriculture.

“Food security is national security. This bill safeguards our nation’s farmland and food supply by overhauling the system for federal oversight of foreign land ownership. There is nothing more basic to our nation’s independence, safety and security than protecting our food supply from foreign ownership,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture.

“Foreign ownership of farmland is an issue I hear about regularly as I visit with Iowans on my annual 99 county visits. I share Iowans’ serious concerns about our productive land ending up in the hands of those who are not our allies,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “While we already have a strong state law that prohibits foreign ownership of ag land, our entire federal Iowa delegation has been engaged on this issue and understands the importance of protecting farm ground and our national security. I am hopeful that Senator Ernst’s bi-partisan bill with Chairwoman Stabenow can become the basis for a much tougher federal law.”

The Foreign Agricultural Restrictions to Maintain Local Agriculture and National Defense (FARMLAND) Act will amend the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) of 1978, which was established to develop a nationwide system for collecting information on foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land. 

Specifically, it will increase reporting and transparency and strengthen oversight over the influence of our foreign adversaries by:

  • Updating the authority of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to better consider agriculture needs when making determinations affecting our national security,
  • Reviewing the purchase or lease by a foreign entity that exceeds $5 million or 320 acres of land over the last three years,
  • Giving Congress more oversight on the national security risks of foreign purchase and management of U.S. agricultural land,
  • Establishing greater USDA involvement in reviewing our foreign adversaries’ acquisition of land by including the Secretary of Agriculture and Commissioner of the Food and Drugs on CFIUS,
  • Bolstering USDA’s oversight and investigative actions by strengthening staff,
  • Developing a publicly available database of agricultural land owned by foreign persons and creating an audit,
  • Prohibiting participation for foreign-owned or operated land to participate in Farm Service Agency programs, and
  • Requiring CFIUS to consider retroactive divestment of real estate owned by foreign entities.