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China Is Still Buying U.S. Farmland, Government Doesn't Know Exactly How Much

China Is Still Buying U.S. Farmland, Government Doesn't Know Exactly How Much

In 2022, the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture requested an investigation into foreign ownership of American farmland.

The letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asked the oversight body to study the issue, following reports that foreigners may have been holding as much as 37.6 million acres of U.S. agricultural land, roughly 2.9 percent of all privately held farmland.

"China’s ownership of U.S. farmland is a threat to our food security and national security. An affordable, reliable food supply is critical to our nation’s well-being and prosperity and we must ensure America maintains control of our nation’s resources," Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) said at the time. "We are calling on the [GAO] to report on the scope of this threat to our food supply to inform Congress how we can best protect the security of the American people. Americans need transparency about the federal government’s efforts to address this growing problem."

The GAO has just concluded two years of research and found that foreign ownership of American farmland is increasing, but because of inadequate data tracking, it's difficult to know how much.

Foreign investment in U.S. agricultural land grew to roughly 40 million acres in 2021, according to the new GAO report, which was published on Jan. 18.

The report also cites mistakes in data collection, including double counting of the largest land holding linked to China. The duplicate occurred when the ownership changed and the old record was not removed.

Additionally, researchers determined that forms were not being filled out correctly, which has led to government officials being unable to identify the affiliated country for 918 people with U.S. farmland holdings.

The oversight agency found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “does not share timely data on foreign investments in agricultural land” with the government agencies responsible for reviewing transactions that may pose national security risks — the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of the Treasury.

While USDA officials say they respond promptly to requests for information, DOD officials say they need information that is more up-to-date and specific, and that they need to receive that information more than once per year.

“Growing foreign ownership of U.S. farmland, particularly by China, poses a direct threat to our food security and national security,” Comer and House Agriculture Committee chairman Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) said in a joint statement about the report. "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.”

The GAO is making six recommendations, including that the USDA share detailed information more quickly, improve the reliability of its data, and explore the creation of an online submission system and public database.

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