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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Did you know that foreign investors own more than a million acres of agricultural land in Kansas? Foreign people and entities own more than 43 million acres across America, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But those numbers are over a year old, dating back to Dec. 31, 2022.
Some agencies, like the Department of Defense, want a more recent accounting of which foreign countries are buying farmland. They say it could be a matter of national security if the land is near sensitive military bases.
DOD officials want to receive the information more than once a year.
Last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said how the USDA collects the data is flawed.
“… without improving its internal processes, USDA cannot report reliable information to Congress or the public about where and how much U.S. agricultural land is held by foreign persons,” the GAO report said.
Prompted by the GAO reporter, U.S. Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas and nine other senators introduced a bill on Thursday to collect more information about foreign ownership of farmland.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. USDA hasn’t done a good enough job of measuring foreign farmland ownership and certainly appears to be incapable of managing this issue that’s top of mind for farmers and consumers alike,” Marshall said in a news release.
He said the senators’ bill is bipartisan and, if passed, would require transparency and accountability from the USDA.
“Food security is national security,” Marshall said. “Adversarial nations’ uptick in foreign land ownership presents unique threats to our food supply. We must get a better handle on these investments.”
Foreign buyers and sellers of American agricultural land are already required to report it to the USDA, based on the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) of 1978. Marshall wants to improve on that law
The USDA’s Dec. 31, 2022, report says foreign persons had 43.4 million acres of U.S. agricultural land. That is 3.4% of all privately held farmland and nearly 2% of all land in the U.S.
Foreign investors and amount of U.S. land, both agricultural and non-agricultural:
Canada – 14.2 million acres
Netherlands – 5.3 million
Italy – 2.8 million
United Kingdom – 2.6 million
Germany – 2.3 million
All others – 17 million
The “all others” group includes China, which holds 349,442 acres.
In Kansas, foreign investors held 1.28 million acres of land at the end of 2022, an increase of 95,000 acres over 2021.
Foreign investors and amount of Kansas land, both agricultural and non-agricultural:
Italy – 398,858 acres
Canada – 388,480 acres
Germany – 26,483 acres
Netherlands – 11,732 acres
United Kingdom – 2,843 acres
All others – 454,384 acres
The USDA 2022 report showed a Chinese investor owned one acre of non-agricultural land in Russell County.
Foreign investor use of Kansas land:
Cropland – 897,219 acres
Pasture – 282,648 acres
Forest – 3,822 acres
Other agricultural uses – 94,356 acres
Non-agricultural uses – 4,735 acres
The USDA’s annual report also includes county-by-county amounts.
Foreign investors in Kansas counties
Click here to see more of the USDA reports on foreign investors.
Last week’s GAO report made six recommendations for the USDA to provide more timely, reliable data on foreign buyers of American land.
Senator Marshall said the bill he supports is mainly drawn from the GAO recommendations. The AFIDA Improvements Act of 2024 would:
Streamline Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) Data Sharing: Require USDA to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the CFIUS to govern data sharing between USDA and CFIUS member agencies within one year of enactment.
Modernize the AFIDA Handbook: Direct USDA to update the agency’s handbook so that officials can collect AFIDA data within one year of enactment. This handbook was last updated in 2006.
Implement current law: Require USDA to develop and report to Congress a timeline to meet specific implementation benchmarks for an online AFIDA submission system and public database. While Congress has required USDA to implement an online system by 2025, GAO discovered that USDA “has not developed timelines for creating an online submission process [or] a public database.”
Improve data verification and monitoring: Direct and empower USDA to take any such actions as are necessary to validate foreign ownership data collected under AFIDA.
Identify suspected non-filers: Direct USDA to better leverage Farm Service Agency data to identify individuals who have illegally not filed transactions with foreign persons under AFIDA.
Collect data from every foreign investor: Require reporting for foreign persons with a minority stake in an agricultural land asset, including through ownership tiers or shell companies.
The 62-page GAO report includes the USDA’s response to its recommendations. The USDA said it agrees with the first five recommendations but needs funding to take action on some of them.
The USDA says it already sends information on Chinese, Russian, North Korean, and Iranian investors to the DOD, the FBI and the Office of Homeland Security.
Regarding the sixth recommendation, the USDA said its next report would include data on secondary and higher interests associated with Chinese, Russian, Iranian, and North Korean investors. But it says it would need additional money and people to do more.