NALC’s Pittman notes ‘historical shift’ in focus of proposed foreign land ownership proposals
Pittman: Amendments to AFIDA could be complex to implement
“We don’t know the full extent of the risk at hand. Outdated reporting systems and a lack of auditing at both the state and federal level leave us with incomplete information and many questions,” Baldwin said.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hampered by an antiquated paper-based and loophole-riddled reporting system, the number of foreign-owned acres of agricultural land in the United States may be undercounted, witnesses told the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
While the issue of foreign ownership of farm- and forestland in the United States goes back to the nation’s earliest days, concerns were reignited in 2021 when Chinese buyers eyed farmland near U.S. military bases.
Testifying before the committee on Wednesday were Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center; Gloria Montaño Greene, deputy undersecretary for farm production and conservation for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and David Ortega, associate professor-agricultural, food and resource economics at Michigan State University.
Who owns U.S. ag land?
According to NALC, investors from three countries — Canada, Netherlands and Italy — comprise one-half of all foreign ownership of agricultural lands. The United Kingdom and Germany represent 6 percent of all foreign ownership. The remaining third is spread among 100 countries.
Citing the 2013 purchase of Smithfield Foods by the Chinese and subsequent foreign purchases of U.S. agriculture and food organizations, Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said, “American farmers and families have raised many questions, from the economic impacts of foreign purchases in our food supply chain, to how we can protect agriculture innovation and research spurred by U.S. investment and more.”
“We also know food security is national security,” she said.
Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, ranking member of the committee, said he's often been asked about the issue.
"We need to better understand the problem before we can supply a solution," he said.
At the center of the discussion was the 1978 Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act or AFIDA. The law requires any foreign person who buys, sells, or holds a direct or indirect interest in U.S. agriculture land to disclose holdings and transactions.
Greene outlined the challenges her department faces in collecting information about foreign ownership.
“The process to report and track foreign-owned agricultural land is complex,” she told the committee.
“AFIDA is self-reporting. Currently, the AFIDA reporting system uses a paper-based approach to data collection,” Greene said. “We currently have no way to identify the geographic location of AFIDA filings more specifically than the country level.
“There is not currently a system at the national, state or local level that tracks deeds or leases and there is no automated reporting mechanism to aggregate information,” she said.
Two senators expressed concerns about the quality of data currently in the AFIDA reporting system.
“We have a lease loophole that’s currently in the AFIDA process, that if you don’t own it and you lease it, you don’t have to go through that reporting process,” said Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, adding that a second loophole is that any holding smaller than 10 acres doesn’t have to be reported.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin said there was “an alarming gap” in reporting on foreign ownership and its effects on America’s food system.