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Findings lead to calls for better data collection system and improved monitoring of farmland purchases by foreign interests.

Joshua Baethge

January 22, 2024

2 Min Read
Tractor cultivating field with wind turbine on horizon
Getty Images/Thomas Winz

A U.S Government Accountability Office report released Jan. 18 says USDA needs to do a better job of collecting, tracking and sharing data on foreign investment in agriculture land. It adds that a real-time data collection system would help other agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Treasury Department, better review the information.

USDA has previously requested funds for a real-time data collection system that could be accessed by other government agencies and the public.

According to Agriculture Department data, foreign investment in American agricultural land increased to approximately 40 million acres in 2021. The GOA report notes this could pose national security risks in some cases, such as when a foreign interest buys land near U.S. military facilities.

Following the report’s release, House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson, R- Pa., and House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chair James Comer, Ky., issued a joint statement expressing concern over its findings.

“Growing foreign ownership of U.S. farmland, particularly by China, poses a direct threat to our food security and national security,” the two lawmakers say. “Safeguarding our farmland and food supply requires a whole of government approach and we will continue to work with the impacted agencies, related committees, and leadership to continue our robust oversight and to identify legislative vehicles to address the findings of the GAO report.”

Thompson and Comer were among 130 lawmakers who sent a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Dene Dodaro in Oct. 2022 requesting a review of foreign ag investment. They said the increase in foreign control of U.S. farmland could potentially lead to foreign control over food production and food prices.

Representatives of the American Farm Bureau Federation said Sunday that while not all foreign land holdings should be considered bad, the report does raise concerns. The AFBF does not have an official position on the issue, though it is something they are monitoring closely. Delegates at the AFBF annual convention in Salt Lake City will consider an amendment to the Bureau’s policy platform on Tuesday that would call for USDA to more closely monitor foreign agriculture land ownership.

Per the Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978, multiple government agencies, including Defense and Treasury, are required to identify and review transactions that may pose national security risks. USDA annually publishes some foreign ag date for agencies to review, though Defense Department officials say it needs to be more up-to-date and specific.

The GOA report provided six recommendations on how the reporting and evaluating processes could be improved. According to the report, USDA “generally agreed” with those recommendations.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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