Pulse Results

Pulse: Public Favors Banning Foreign Investors from Buying U.S. Land

Pulse: Public Favors Banning Foreign Investors from Buying U.S. Land

The August LANDTHINK Pulse revealed 85% of respondents believe that foreign investors should not be allowed to buy land in the United States. Much of what’s happening in the world today has forced people to consider a more self-sufficient future and has made people rethink their lifestyles. The pandemic, a seemingly endless supply chain crunch, and the war in Ukraine, the term home-grown takes on an especially relevant note. We are blessed to live in America, a country that is not only self-sufficient in basic food production, but also provides food for a large part of the rest of the world. The U.S. has the natural resources under our feet that we can tap into in order to become energy independent. American soil. Those are two little words that stir up patriotic sentiment, but also words that can’t be taken for granted.

Last month, the August Pulse asked: Should foreign investors be allowed to buy land in the U.S.?

Pulse Results: August 2022

There is a disturbing trend in America. Foreign investors can’t get enough American land. They are buying up land- primarily farmland- at an alarming rate. Foreign investment in U.S. cropland has nearly tripled in the past decade, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. The total cropland in the United States controlled by foreign interests was 10.9 million acres in 2020. That’s up from 4.1 million acres in 2010. This increase has been largely driven by foreign-owned wind companies signing long-term leases on a large number of acres, according to the USDA. Foreign investors own more than just farmland. Overall, they own or lease nearly 37.6 million acres of agricultural land, including forests and pastures. Foreign investment in agricultural land is split into five categories: forest, pasture, cropland, other ag, and non-ag. The largest category for foreign ownership is forest land.

While foreign land ownership has been reported in all 50 states, the greatest share is in Texas, with over 4.4 million acres, followed by Maine (3.3 million acres) and Alabama (1.8 million acres). In 2020 alone, China increased its ownership of U.S. land by more than 80%—to 352,000 acres, or over 550 square miles. Much of this land is in highly strategic locations, such as near American military bases or along our southern border, and more than half of it is agricultural.

This growing level of investment by foreign investors has sparked legislative action. Congress is concerned that foreign investors- mainly China- is gaining leverage over our food supplies and national security. Additionally, the deep-pocketed investors are making it hard for young farmers to buy the land they need to get established.

Land grabbing poses a threat because it can affect local land rights and agricultural production, and put local food security and livelihoods at risk. Large land purchases can present various localized concerns in the places where they occur. Foreign corporations are increasingly purchasing land in the parched Southwest, and thanks to longstanding laws on water rights, these purchases often come with unlimited access to the valuable water underneath the soil, as long as it is for a “beneficial use”. Foreign investors are taking advantage of this regulatory loophole, and it is affecting water availability for local farms and communities.

Recently, there have been a few bills before Congress that would require additional review of foreign investment. Right now, there are 14 states that restrict or prohibit foreign ownership of farmland, but none outright forbid it, according to a memo by the Congressional Research Service.

On September 15, 2022, President Joe Biden signed a new Executive Order that administration officials say aims to sharpen the national security considerations taken in the federal government’s review process for foreign investment in the United States. The Order elaborates and expands on the existing list of factors that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) considers when reviewing transactions for national security risks and describes potential national security implications in key areas. The Order was largely ceremonial in nature, and officials say the move is not specifically focused on China.

The majority of our LANDTHINK audience was in agreement that the United States should not allow adversaries to buy up our land for any purpose. After all, China forbids Americans from owning any Chinese farmland. Most agree that foreign investors like China should be made to play by its own rules. The current administration should take the necessary steps to prevent these land grabs by foreign investors.

Our informal online survey revealed the LANDTHINK audience strongly believes foreign investors SHOULD NOT be allowed to buy land in the United States; an overwhelming 85% said “NO”. Only 10% answered that only countries who are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should be allowed to buy in the U.S. A mere 5% thought that foreign investors SHOULD BE allowed to buy land in America.

Do you have a suggestion for next month’s Pulse question? Submit your question and we might choose yours!

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2 Comments

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  • Sticky subject. I agree with the sentiment of protecting our country’s interests. I am ignorant on the subject and had not considered this much until reading this. I’d like to see a follow-up piece summarizing some of the proposed measures addressing limiting foreign investment interests from buying US assets through corporations, proxies, etc. Sure, limiting an individual person based on citizenship status is a move or limiting a foreign corporation based on where they headquarter. But, what would stop international interests from becoming US citizens, buying through proxies (foreign or domestic), etc.

    How could foreign corporate interests be prevented from acquiring US land transferred through corporate mergers and acquisitions…for example, a China-based company or a “US-based” investment fund backed with Chinese financial interests buying out a US-based company with land holdings…without risking infringing on the rights of other US companies? What about publicly traded US corporations that own and acquire land? Would this mean foreign interests could not own stock in these companies or that US companies that issue public stock would be restricted from buying US land? It’s a mindbender.

  • Only American citizens should be able to own land in the United States. An American citizen based corporation would be included in that group if and only if their primary interest is to support U.S. common good and U.S. patriotic interests. Let us do what makes sense in this regard.

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