One of the biggest issues that homesteaders and farmers face in America today is the ability to buy land. Tonight while scrolling through local land for sale, finding properties of 50+ acres with a price tag of millions of dollars—it was a stark reminder. A reminder that, unless you are an everyday average millionaire, a large corporation, don’t mind being in millions worth of debt, OR you’re a foreign country….that it would literally take the average American decades to properly save up enough money in order to pay for farmland of more than 50 acres (and in some cases, less than 50 acres).
In Virginia alone (where I live), almost 526,000 acres are owned by a foreign company, farmer, or individual. The top few players in VA are Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, and China. China owns one of the United States’ largest pig processing facilities (if not the biggest) here in Virginia, along with plenty of farmland. One of our local historic farms that produces grain and hay for livestock is owned by a German LLC—various parcels combining into one, being bought in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. And while I have nothing against foreign owned land, companies creating jobs for Americans, and more—it is disheartening to now see so many small American farmers and homesteaders wishing they could turn good, honest land into a working farm to put money back into their community and country, but not being able to afford it because landowners know that someone else will pay more. And I mean, really, why wouldn’t they sell it to the highest bidder? You can’t blame them, either. It’s not their fault. It’s not really anyone’s fault, except, it does warrant a quick lesson in how this all works.
Nearly 30 million acres of U.S. farmland is now owned by foreign countries. There are about 1.9 billion acres of land, total, in the U.S. But to give you some perspective, only 10 million acres of American farmland were foreign-owned in 1998. In just 20 years, we have tripled the amount of land that is now no longer in American possession, but in foreign possession. In 2016 alone, at least 1.6 million acres of U.S. agricultural land was acquired by foreign investors. Maine and Texas are the states with the most foreign ownership of land.
China contributed to even more foreign acquired land in 2013 when it bought 146,000+ acres of farmland that came along with the Smithfield pork operation sale. Much of the Communist Party of China’s goals is to gain control of more farmland, grain products, livestock feed, and oilseed, in order to create policies that support facilities and agricultural production to create large multinational trade conglomerates (which is a combination of multiple business entities operating in entirely different industries under one corporate group, usually involving a parent company and many subsidiaries).
As you see the various farms, farmland, and forestry land that fall under different business names of foreign owned land, it begins to make sense. The word “conglomerate” isn’t just a word in your vocabulary that means “a group of things”. When you add the word “trade” or “foreign” to it, you start seeing a bigger picture. Why would a country need to be involved with America in order to trade, when it can create it’s own revenue streams in America, using various businesses, taking away revenue from American soil and workers, and streamline it all into their own country. When you start looking at it that way, you begin to realize the bigger picture…..the bigger issue. And it’s a pretty big one.
More concerning, in just the last decade, Chinese investments in the agricultural sector have grown tenfold, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Not just meat and crop production, but pesticide and seed companies as well. However, in the United States overall, it seems as though Luxembourg and Italy have seen the biggest increase in land ownership here—Luxembourg concentrating on large forestry properties, and Italy focusing almost entirely on cropland. Overall, Canada, however, owns the most land out of all foreign entities in the U.S., with the Netherlands being a close second.
With trade wars and low-profit margins driving increased farm bankruptcies; large farms, corporate farms, and even larger family farms are quickly being bought up or acquired by foreign countries. So what do we do? Or, do we do anything at all? That’s the greatest question. What do YOU think? Does it bother you, or do you think it’s just paranoia?
Ultimately, there is a financial issue at hand. However, could it be a major food security issue that we’re not paying close enough attention to?
The quickest fix? Stop looking for pristine farmland. Buy land that no one else wants (which is often wooded). Almost all land can be turned into good land with a lot of elbow grease and diligence. That might mean learning how to farm in wooded areas, which is absolutely possible (hello, pigs!). Or clearing previous pastureland that has now grown up. Have a marshy area? Turn it into a pond. Managed land is healthy land, it’s why God made us stewards of the earth. And wooded land that people don’t want is often cheap land. Little by little, piece by piece, America could regain what it has lost.
The bigger change that needs to happen though—Americans should start encouraging their representatives to start putting restrictions on landownership when it comes to foreign entities.
You can find out how much land is owned by a foreign country (or foreign company/individual) in your state by using this website — http://apps.investigatemidwest.org/afida/
Laurie A says
Wow, that’s an eye opener! There’s almost none owned in our county, but plenty in our state. You’ve given me lots to think about. Thank you for writing about this.
Jeff Hamilton says
Dear Amy, This is by far the scariest article I have read in the last 5 years. Being the grandson of two farm families from my maternal grandparents, I kind of understand the importance of “local” farming. Right now I feel a little speechless so I won’t try to share more. Foreign groups owning American farmland and making a profit of their products and all that money goes out of the USA……Hmmm I will share more later. I will pray more for the USA. I thank God for enlightening me through this article. Peace be with you, Jeff Hamilton
Very interesting! I recently learned of foreign investors buying land in the USA but I didn’t know the extent of it.