Where are leaders looking in order to keep eyes on foreign purchases of U.S. ag land?

Chinese ownership of U.S. ag land has been a major concern, with both lawmakers and ag leaders working to find ways to limit their control. However, it is a large undertaking, and one, the nation’s top ag leaders say requires a lot of moving parts.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says no matter how much money is spent to track Chinese purchases of U.S. ag land, efforts will likely fall short. He points to the amount of paperwork sprawled out over the country, including records kept at each county register officer. He says a logical approach would be to create a central database.

“No matter how much money you give us, it will always be imperfect for this reason: there are over three thousand county recorder offices around the country. Every county has a recorder’s office. It would require us to have a centralized database where every real estate transaction would essentially be put into a database to look at. I made a request of the Treasury Department for us to be more engaged in issues involving agribusiness, agriculture, farmland, and we have. We’ve been engaged and involved in a number of projects. We appreciate the fact that in this 2024 budget that was recently passed, it provided resources for the first time directly assisting us to expand staffing for that purpose.”

Senator Chuck Grassley says he wants to focus on voluntary notifications to USDA, urging the Department to exert maximum effort in tracking these acquisitions.

“I would expect them to keep as current as they can and I think a lot of this has to be based upon voluntary notification to the Department of Agriculture when sales are made to foreign nationals, that’d be all foreign. But right now, we’re particularly concerned about China.”

The Farm Bureau took a close look at the issues in a report last year. They found 50 percent of foreign ag land holdings are controlled by Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom. They found China ranks 18th on the list, owning 383,000 acres in the United States. However, despite their ranking, several lawmakers say their concern lies around what they call China’s growing influence on U.S agriculture, and the safety of the U.S. food supply.