international investors gained at least 1.6 million acre of U.S. Agricultural land in 2016, the largest increase in more than a decade, follow to a review by the Midwest center for Investigative reporting of the latest available federal data.

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The data indigenous the U.S. Room of agriculture show that international investors control—either through direct ownership or long-term leases—at least 28.3 million acres, valued in ~ $52.2 billion. That area is around the dimension of the state the Ohio.


A 1978 federal law, known as the Agricultural foreign Investment Disclosure Act, requires foreign entities to report transactions that farmland to the USDA’s Farm business Agency. The data covers years 1900 through 2016.

The state v the most international ownership and also investment is Maine, which has 3.1 million acre that room foreign-controlled, followed very closely by Texas at 3 million acres.

Alabama, at 1.6 million acres, Washington, in ~ 1.5 million acres, and Michigan, in ~ 1.3 million acres, round out the top five, according to the Midwest Center’s analysis.

Estimates of foreign ownership of agriculture land might be underreported together data can be inconsistent and also the recent release is much more than 2 years old. Still, it offers a solid indication of quantity of foreign ownership and also lease information.

As international ownership of farming land continues to increase, initiatives to limit international ownership the U.S. Farmland have gained traction.

“This is around food protection for (foreign investors), it demands to be about food security for us,” stated Jake Davis, plan director for family Farm Action, a coalition of family members farmers and advocates supporting boundaries on international ownership.

Davis said the organization is working through lawmakers in Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma to introduce bills banning foreign ownership.

Already, six states  have laws banning foreign ownership the farmland. Those claims are Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, phibìc Dakota and also Oklahoma.


Meanwhile, the foreign interest in farmland likewise has end up being an concern in the presidential election. In March, autonomous presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced she would assistance a federal version of Iowa’s law. The law, passed in the 1970s, claims that non-resident aliens can not buy farmland for the function of farming; however, they can buy much less than 320 acres of floor to construct something or for a purpose other than farming.

“I support a national version of the law, and as President, will usage all available tools to restrict international ownership of American farming companies and also farmland,” Warren wrote in an online article on the issue.

Previously, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) have pushed for boosted federal surveillance of foreign investment.

Stewart Lewack, a spokesman for Nuveen, which manages billions that dollars that farmland investments for TIAA, said the firm intentionally doesn’t get farmland in claims with international ownership restrictions.

While a U.S.-based company, TIAA is the largest an international agricultural investor and also has come report holdings come the USDA because of international investors, Lewack said.

“We are cognizant of this limitations and also intentionally carry out not obtain farmland in the US states with property restrictions,” Lewack said.

Missouri law adjusted to allow Chinese purchase

In 2013, one week before Chinese agency Shuanghui purchased Smithfield Foods, the Missouri legislature amended a law clearing the means for the approval.

Previously, Missouri had a regulation on its books that prohibition all foreign ownership the farmland, but that bill elevated the ceiling come 1 percent. That move permitted the company, now well-known as WH Group, to acquire more than 40,000 acre of Missouri farmland, follow to commonwealth data.


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Channone Arif / Flickr
In 2018, the Missouri legislature revisited the worry after two legislatures, Rep. Martha Stevens, D-Columbia, and Rep. Tom Hurst, R-Meta, sponsored bills that would ban international individuals or reality from to buy farmland. WH Group and other foreign entities would be grandfathered in, but they would certainly not have been permitted to offer their land to other international entities walk forward.

At a hearing ~ above those bills in 2018, the Missouri farm yard Bureau, the Missouri Rural situation Center and Family Farm activity were amongst groups the testified in donate of the ban, while teams like Smithfield, the Missouri Cattleman’s Association and Missouri Pork producers testified versus the bills.

The bills did not end up being law, and also Family Farm activity is functioning to get them pass this session, Davis said.

Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri farm yard Bureau, claimed his organization still supports capping international ownership at the present holdings.

“We strongly oppose international ownership of farmland,” Hurst said. “Our members this U.S. Property provides better stewardship of the land and it’s better for countryside communities. We need to safeguard this an useful asset because that the unified States.”

Smithfield did not respond to a inquiry for talk about the changes.

China property surges

According to commonwealth data, WH Group’s Smithfield, the world’s biggest pork producer, owns about 150,000 acres.

While Chinese entities only own about 191,000 acres worth $1.9 billion, in its entirety Chinese investment in the agricultural sector has grown tenfold in much less than a decade, follow to the USDA’s financial Research Service.


For example, ChemChina, a chemistry company, newly purchased Syngenta, a Swiss pesticides and seed company.

And in Ohio, one of the claims where a ban on foreign-owned farmland is gift considered, WH Group bought 2 grain elevators in 2016, allowing the company to skip the middleman in feeding Smithfield’s livestock.

In 2018, the U.S. Federal government reached a deal with Smithfield come buy $240,000 precious of pork together a part of the trump card administration’s trade bailout program, but that transaction was terminated after extensive backlash.

Yet, Brazilian-owned JBS, a meatpacking company, received about $5 million in bailouts.

“The closer you are to the land, the much more likely you are to take care of it,” Davis said. “The exact same goes come the closer you are to the ownership of farm yard animals.”

Issues through data, current changes

A previous analysis by the Midwest facility for Investigative Reporting in 2017 uncovered that foreign control of U.S. Farmland doubled in between 2004 and also 2014 – indigenous 13.7 million acres to 27.3 million acres.

Since 2014, international investment, in the form of property or permanent leases, has ongoing to increase, an evaluation of federal data through the center found.Foreign ownership provides up around 2.2 percent that farmland in the U.S. And also 1 percent of every land.

Critics often point out food defense as a factor to ban foreign ownership of farming land, however the Center’s evaluation found that timber companies and renewable power companies continue to be the biggest group of international investors.


In 2016, Luxembourg had actually the largest rise of any kind of country in foreign investment at 262,000 acres – all forestland – valued at $599 million, when Italy was second at 257,000 acres – almost entirely cropland – valued at $300 million.

Overall, Canadian individuals and also entities own the many land in ~ 4.7 million acres, valued in ~ $4.6 billion. Netherlands is a close 2nd at 4.5 million acres, valued at $6 billion.

Those countries hold far-reaching forestland investments.

EDP Renewables, a Portuguese renewable power company, and Enel green Power, an Italian renewable energy company, that both control far-reaching swaths of farmland through long-term leases decreased comment.

Resource management Services also did no respond come a request for comment. The Alabama-based agency manages timberland for numerous foreign-owned entities, consisting of three the the peak seven foreign-controlled companies, follow to a Midwest Center analysis of business and also land records.

Many the the firm’s more than $4.5 exchange rate in holdings, which have significant investment from the Netherlands, room land previously regulated by worldwide Paper.

Joe Maxwell, executive director of the company for vain Markets and also former Lieutenant branch of Missouri stated he is concerned that foreign investment will increase because the profession war and low-profit spare part have driven an increase in farm yard bankruptcies, v twice as numerous farmers declaring bankruptcy in 2018 than did in 2008.


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Maxwell helped start family Farm action to lobby on problems like international ownership of farmland. The organization also opposes corporate ownership of land.

Inconsistent enforcement, feasible underestimates

While international entities are supposed to self-report their manage over U.S. Farmland, castle are rarely fined if they carry out not.

The U.S. Room of agriculture inconsistently enforces the regulation that requires foreign entities come report transactions of farmland.

Under the law, every international person or entity that acquires at the very least 10 percent interest in farming land must file what is recognized as an FSA-153 form with the farm yard Service company of the USDA.

Agricultural soil is characterized as a parcel of soil at least 10 acres in dimension or that might produce $1,000 in revenue from agricultural activities. Interest deserve to be noþeles from property to a long-term lease.

The type requires disclosure about a broad variety of items, including exactly how the project is financed, who the owner is and where the owner is from.

Penalties for no filing in ~ 90 days deserve to be as severe as a fine of approximately 25 percent of the fair industry value that the land.


However, the federal federal government has not assessed a well under the act due to the fact that 2014, according to documents obtained under the flexibility of details Act.

Since 2011, the USDA has actually only assessed 10 fines under the law, worth $115,724, follow to company records acquired by the Midwest Center.

Peter Wood, a USDA spokesman, claimed the agency’s goal is to monitor international ownership the farmland, no to assess penalties. But the USDA proceeds to publish numbers that are incomplete and also inaccurate, according to the Midwest facility review.

Wood stated that the database only has “active” holdings the farmland, however spot check of the data display that there are also inactive holdings.

In addition, around 1.3 million acres, worth $386 million, perform not perform the country linked with the owner, and about 333,000 acres, precious $65 million, execute not list the owner.

Typos in ~ the data are frequent and can do it difficult to figure out correct acreage and also value.

Spot check by the Midwest facility of the data show that numerous parcels the land space no longer regulated by the owner provided in the database. Furthermore, that is daunting to identify who owns many restricted liability suppliers or how countless companies space owned by foreign investors in whole or in part.

Maxwell claimed the absence of enforcement of the legislation makes it impossible to know just how much foreign investment there is.

“One that the worst issues is the absence of data,” Maxwell said.

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This story was republished from the Midwest facility for Investigative Reporting. Read the initial story here.