A bipartisan effort to protect America’s farms
The 117th Congress will be remembered as a polarized time, but a recent bipartisan effort to protect U.S. agriculture from foreign investments offers a reminder of the potential for cooperation across the aisle.
Recent months have seen prominent Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the importance of knowing what foreign entities are purchasing U.S. farmland, and of preventing bad actors from influencing our agricultural industry. There are serious gaps in our knowledge about foreign purchases of U.S. farmland: my research has found that over $8.3 billion in U.S. farmland purchases go unexplained in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s foreign ownership parcel database, and a lack of transparency often makes it difficult to know just who is buying U.S. farmland.
Where we do have knowledge about foreign investors, the results reveal glaring national security concerns. Most worrying are the number of purchases made by organizations tied to the Chinese Communist Party. Incidents range from a state-owned Chinese bank bankrolling the purchase of America’s largest pork producers, to a CCP- connected billionaire buying hundreds of thousands of acres next to an American military base, to a Chinese company buying property next to an Air Force base.
Lawmakers from both parties are starting to take notice and respond. In July , Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) introduced the Farmland Security Act, which would require the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to report on the impact of foreign investment in U.S. agriculture, and to build an interactive dashboard of all foreign agricultural investments in the U.S.
As Grassley explained, “By requiring the USDA to report these purchases in real time, we can keep better track of the impact these acquisitions could have on our rural communities. The Farmland Security Act will also help protect domestic food production and our national security interests.”
This bill continues Grassley’s previous bipartisan efforts on this issue. In 2017 and 2021, he and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced the Food Security is National Security Act. This law would have required the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews foreign investments for national security concerns, to consider food security in its decisions, and would have made the secretary of Agriculture a member of the committee.
The House has also seen bipartisan action to address the issue. Last year, Reps. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) and Filemon Vela (D-Texas) introduced the House version of the Foreign Adversary Risk Management Act,which would have similarly added the secretary of Agriculture to CFIUS and amended the Defense Production Act of 1950 to treat including agricultural supply chains as critical technologies.
As Vela explained, “This bill increases federal scrutiny of foreign investments in U.S. industry that could undermine our agricultural supply chains by adding the secretary of Agriculture to CFIUS and designating agricultural supply chains as key infrastructure under the CFIUS review process.”
Some of the actions in these bills were included in the Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations bill for agriculture, introduced in July 2022. The bill includes language requiring USDA to write an annual report on foreign agricultural investment in the U.S. and to USDA to build a dashboard of agricultural land owned by foreign investors.
Now, these bipartisan congressional efforts are trickling down to the state level. State policymakers in both red and blue states are also focusing on curbing foreign purchases of land. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) recently proposed legislation to ban China and other foreign countries from purchasing agricultural land next to military bases in Florida and from owning agricultural land more broadly. Similarly, the California legislature this year passed legislation to ban foreign buyers from buying California farmland. While Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed the legislation last week, the effort attests to the desire within both parties to take action.
Lawmakers will need to work together to turn these bills into law. If pushed through, these laws will be a bipartisan win for American farmers and the nation’s national security.
Lars Schönander is policy technologist for the Lincoln Network.