Foreign-owned Ag Land in the US

Lately, there has been a lot of talk and concern over foreign-owned land in the US.  A lot of “blame” has been placed on Chinese interests in the US – the incident of the balloon drifting over the US almost a year ago brought that conversation to the front (See one of many articles here).

As a result, some states are considering a ban on foreign investment, with Arkansas being the first to enact a statute to ban all foreign investment in October, 2023.  Other states ban specific countries from ownership in specific areas (for example, around military bases).

Chinese investors own WH Group, which acquired Smithfield Foods in 2013.  China National Chemical Corp (ChemChina) acquired Syngenta in 2017.

Foreign investment in the US is not a new concept.  (If you think about it, the US was founded on foreign investment more than 200 years ago).  However, the news of foreign investment over the past several years has made lawmakers and landowners nervous.

Here are a few statistics: (Source:  AgWeb “Which Foreign County Owns the Most Farmland in the US?  Hint:  It’s Not China”)

  • 43.4 M acres of forest or farmland in the US is foreign-owned.
    • Approximately 30 M acres are foreign-owned, with the remainder under a 10-year or longer lease
    • 2/3 (66%) of the 30 M acres are owner-operated
  • 43.4M acres translates to 3.4% of all US forest and farmland
  • This information only addresses ag and forest real estate and does not include commercial investment in real estate, investment in urban areas, or general ownership of Fortune 500 corporation stock
  • Top 5 Countries invested in Ag land (percent of the 43.4 M foreign-owned acres):
    • Canada – 32% or 14.2 M acres
    • Netherlands – 12%
    • Italy – 6%
    • UK – 6%
    • Germany – 5%
  • China owns less than 1% of the total number of foreign-invested acres, or 349,442 acres
  • For contrast, consider:
    • Ted Turner owns about 2 M acres of farmland
    • Jeff Bezos owns about 420,000 acres
    • Bill Gates owns about 269,000 acres

Click Image to go to source

The conversation about foreign investment tends to be alarmist – the action taken by Arkansas was specifically directed at 160 acres owned by Syngenta in Arkansas out of approximately 1,500 acres owned nationwide.

Where is this trend moving?  The concern is primarily over China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia, but China barely registers as a foreign investor in US Ag land, and NK, Iran, and Russia don’t register at all.  One source said Russia owns 73 acres of US farmland (source credibility is questioned).

Check out the graphs below.

Click on image to go to source article

Click on image to go to source article

Is foreign investment in agricultural production a cause for concern?   As mentioned earlier, this is not a new thing, and there are plenty of US Companies and US Citizens who invest in international business and real estate, so the concept goes both ways. US investment abroad accounts for more than $6.5 trillion dollars.

Click on image to go to source

Foreign investment in the US can bring economic development and jobs to communities, and most foreign companies that invest locally become good community partners.  In the case of Smithfield and Indiana Packers, the purpose of the foreign investment is to provide quality and reliably-sourced meat products for China (Smithfield) and Japan (Indiana Packers), in addition to US markets.

In Carroll County, Indiana, Packers Corporation is the county’s largest employer (2,000+ employees in the packing plant) and provides income for hundreds of farmers who grow corn for Oracle Pork, the IPC subsidiary that owns the genetics and the pigs grown for the packing plant.  Dozens of farmers grow pigs for OP, which are delivered to IPC for processing.  Indiana Kitchen is a top-tier pork brand that provides bacon to US grocery stores (and the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – see 2:36 of the video), as well as fresh pork and cured hams.  Indiana Packers has been a successful and community-minded organization in Carroll County since 1989.  Local nonprofit organizations and food pantries have benefited from generous contributions of both meat and funds to support community projects.  Japanese-owned Mitsubishi Corporation owns Indiana Packers.  If Indiana Packers were to suddenly be banned from the US or the State of Indiana, the economic loss to Carroll County and Indiana would be devastating.

The facts (see tables above) show that foreign investment by “unfriendly” or “suspicious” nations is negligible.  Banning ALL foreign investment in agriculture to manage a few countries that barely register on the radar is extremely short-sighted and akin to taking a “sledgehammer to a nail.” (thanks to Chris Hesse for the apt description).  Such protectionist moves risk the removal of foreign investment by companies (and countries) that are friendly and terrific community and economic partners and who bring welcome services and products to the US.

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