116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics
China is buying up U.S. farmland. Iowa’s Ashley Hinson wants to crack down
Hinson backs bill to closely monitor foreign ownership of U.S. farms
Citing growing concern about Chinese investment in U.S. agriculture, Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson announced a renewed push Thursday to more closely monitor foreign ownership of farmland across the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with monitoring foreign investment in farmland under the 1978 Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act. The law requires all foreign holders of agricultural land to report those holdings to the USDA.
Each year, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency releases that information in an annual report. However, the agency largely relies on volunteer reporting, according to a report by Investigate Midwest.
An investigation by the independent, nonprofit newsroom found significant gaps in the USDA database detailing all the land in the annual report. Investigate Midwest found more than 3.1 million acres without an owner listed. Its investigation also found many parcels listed were no longer controlled by the owner in the database. It was unclear if the land was removed from the database after it sold or a lease was terminated.
Hinson co-sponsored a bill led by Republican Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York and Rick Crawford of Arkansas to increase oversight of these acquisitions and require the Secretary of Agriculture to publicly disclose all new and existing Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act reports online.
The bill also would expand the scope of reporting to include security interests and land leases of any period, including idle agricultural land, and all interest acquired, transferred or held by a foreign person.
Hinson said the legislation will increase transparency for foreign land acquisition and help U.S. officials better understand the “threat” posed by Chinese efforts to control U.S. farmland.
“It’s hugely concerning to us,” Hinson said during a conference call with reporters. “So we are looking at what mechanisms we can put in place to make sure we’re able to adequately track who is buying that, and make sure we are ensuring that the Chinese Communist Party is not able purchase that land.”
According to the USDA, Chinese ownership of U.S. farmland increased from $81 million in 2010 to $1.8 billion in 2020. And reports have shown that Chinese investors are buying farmland near military bases and other critical U.S. infrastructure.
As of December 2020, Chinese investors owned 352,140 acres, just less than 1 percent of all foreign-held farmland, according to the USDA.
That’s up from 13,720 acres owned by Chinese investors in 2010, but pales in comparison to Canada investors, which owned 32 percent (or 12.4 million acres) of all land in the United States, and Netherlands buyers, which owns 13 percent (or 4.9 million acres).
In all, foreign investors owned about 37.6 million acres of land worth about $67.6 billion and equal to almost 3 percent of all U.S. farmland, USDA data shows. That is an area slightly larger than the size of the state of Iowa.
Texas has the largest amount of foreign-held U.S. agricultural land with more than 4.7 million acres.
Foreign investors held about 550,000 acres, or roughly 1.8 percent of all Iowa farmland. Iowa is among at least a dozen states that have limits on foreign ownership.
Allowing Chinese investors to strengthen their presence and control over U.S. food production poses a national security risk, Hinson said.
“We don’t want to completely block international land ownership,” she said. “That’s not what we want to see happen. We have a lot of international investment in Iowa in our district. But, we need to be very clear, the Chinese Communist Party is the greatest threat to this county. And we cannot allow them to buy another acre. Not another acre by the CCP.”
The U.S. House last year unanimously passed by voice vote an amendment to an appropriations bill that would require the USDA to take actions to “prohibit the purchase” of agricultural land by “companies owned, in full or in part, by China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea.” Similar provisions were not taken up in the Senate.
The debate over farm ownership has intensified as Chinese firms over the past decade have purchased major agribusinesses, like pork processing giant Smithfield Foods. It also comes amid broader efforts by Congress and the Biden administration to curb the United States’ reliance on China in key industries critical to the nation’s supply chain.
The issue has been bipartisan, with advocates for stricter monitoring in the U.S. Senate including Democrats Jon Tester of Montana, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
China is one of Iowa's largest trading partners, a relationship forged and strengthened by former Iowa Republican governors Robert Ray and Terry Branstad. Branstad served as U.S. ambassador to China under former President Donald Trump.
The U.S. House this week also voted to establish a select committee to assess the myriad military, economic and technological challenges posed by China.
“Taking proper action against China is long overdue,” Hinson said of that country’s posturing against Taiwan, to buying up U.S. farmland “at an alarming rate,” to its theft of U.S. intellectual property and human rights abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority.
“I believe we have been asleep at the wheel,” she said. “But I am confident we will be able to take meaningful action to combat Communist China, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans.”
Comments: (319) 398-8499; email@example.com