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Foreigners bought 3.4 million acres of U.S. forest, farm land in 2022, Agriculture Dep't says

As of last year, in total, foreign parties held more than 43.4 million acres of U.S. land, of which 48% was forest land, 28% cropland, 21% pasture and other agricultural land, and 2% non-agricultural land. "There were no filings directly by the government of China," the Agriculture Department's report said.

Published: December 20, 2023 11:14pm

Amid mounting concerns over foreign land purchases within the United States, a report from the United States Department of Agriculture's (DAG) Farm Service Agency has highlighted the alarming pace at which external entities have been gobbling up American forest and farm land.

Between Dec. 31, 2021, and the same date in 2022, foreign entities added 3.4 million acres of U.S. soil to their holdings, the report stated. In total, foreign parties held more than 43.4 million acres, of which 48% was forest land, 28% cropland, 21% pasture and other agricultural land, and 2% non-agricultural land.

Of the roughly 2.3 billion acres of U.S. land, the DAG has in the past estimated that 1.2 billion acres were used for agricultural purposes, meaning that foreign ownership of strictly agricultural land accounted for just under 1.8% as of the end of 2022.

The report further highlighted the rapidly increasing pace of the foreign purchases, stating that "[f]oreign holdings of U.S. agricultural land increased modestly from 2012 through 2017, increasing an average of 0.6 million per year. Since 2017, foreign holdings have increased an average of nearly 2.9 million acres annually, ranging from 2.4 million acres to over 3.4 million acres per year."

By the states

While nationwide, foreign ownership of agricultural land stood below 2%, some states posted much higher percentages of foreign agricultural land ownership. In two states, the ratio of foreign-held land to private, domestically-owned land exceeded 10%. In Hawaii, that figure stood at 12.8% while in Maine, the figure stood at 21.1%. Rounding out the top five were Alabama and Michigan with 8.6% each and Kentucky with 8.3%.

Rhode Island stood as the state with the least amount of foreign-held land, with external parties controlling a mere 14 acres of agricultural land, which the DAG listed as a rounded 0.0%. Connecticut placed second with 0.1%. Massachusetts placed third with 0.2%, while Delaware posted 0.4%, tying New Hampshire.

Major foreign buyers

Canadian investors controlled the largest portion of foreign-owned land in the U.S., collectively amounting to 14.2 million acres or 32% of all foreign-held agricultural and non-agricultural land.

The next four largest foreign groups controlled a combined 13 million acres amounting to 29%. Included in that group were Dutch investors with 12%, Italians with 6%, British investors with the same amount, and Germans, who controlled 5%.

All other nations owned a collective 17.1 million acres, or 38%.

China

Purchases of American land -- especially those plots near U.S. military installations -- by Chinese-based companies has prompted particular concerns from lawmakers around the nation. The Washington Post reported that lawmakers in 33 states have introduced 81 bills this year that would prohibit the Chinese government, some China-based businesses and many Chinese citizens from buying agricultural land or property near military bases.

The DAG report noted that Chinese investors own less than 1% of foreign-held agricultural land, amounting to 349,442 acres. The top two Chinese companies were Brazos Highland properties, LP and Murphy Brown LLC (Smithfield Foods). It did, however, assert that "the acreage associated with China—or any other country discussed in this report—should be interpreted as a minimum," since it categorized foreign ownership by the primary shareholding company's home country.

The bulk of Chinese land holdings were in Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, Utah, and Virginia.

"There were no filings directly by the government of China," the report stated.

Concerns about Chinese land purchases, however, have prompted action from state governments fearing Chinese-held land could prove a staging ground for espionage. Florida, for instance, barred the sale of land in the Sunshine State to Chinese citizens in May of this year, albeit with limited exceptions.

"Florida is taking action to stand against the United States’ greatest geopolitical threat — the Chinese Communist Party," GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the time. "I’m proud to sign this legislation to stop the purchase of our farmland and land near our military bases and critical infrastructure by Chinese agents, to stop sensitive digital data from being stored in China, and to stop CCP influence in our education system from grade school to grad school. We are following through on our commitment to crack down on Communist China."

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on X.

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