Foreign Farmland Ownership in the United States

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November 18, 2021
Foreign Farmland Ownership in the United States
Legislation introduced in the 117th Congress seeks to
citizenship requirement exists for a sugar processor, or a
restrict foreign investment and ownership of U.S.
cane or beet producer, operating under the U.S. sugar
agricultural land. In 2019, foreign persons and entities held
program. However, foreign persons or entities are not
an interest in 2.7% of U.S. privately owned agricultural
eligible for permanent disaster assistance programs, such as
land—covering crop, grazing, and forest land—according
the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Other
Farm-Raised Fish Program; Livestock Forage Disaster
related legislation seeks to limit the eligibility of foreign
Program; Livestock Indemnity Program; and Tree
persons and entities for USDA farm program benefits.
Assistance Program. The Noninsured Crop Disaster
Assistance Program also explicitly prohibits payments to
Existing Federal Requirements
foreign entities other than resident aliens.
Current law imposes no restrictions on the amount of
private U.S. agricultural land that can be foreign owned.
Existing State Requirements
Federal law, however, requires foreign persons and entities
Some states and localities have instituted restrictions but do
to disclose to USDA information related to foreign
not significantly inhibit foreign farmland ownership. An
investment and ownership of U.S. agricultural land.
overview of state laws by researchers at the University of
Arkansas’s National Agricultural Law Center shows that no
The Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of
U.S. state has instituted an absolute prohibition on foreign
1978 (AFIDA; P.L. 95-460, 7 U.S.C. §§3501-3508) and its
ownership. However, several states have imposed certain
federal regulations (7 C.F.R. Part 781), implemented by
prohibitions or restrictions on foreign ownership, while
USDA, established a nationwide system for the collection
most states expressly allow foreign ownership (Figure 1).
of information pertaining to foreign ownership of U.S.
Several states require reporting or registration (Arkansas,
agricultural land (as defined at 7 C.F.R. §781.2). AFIDA
Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri,
defined a foreign person as “any individual, corporation,
Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, and
company, association, partnership, society, joint stock
Wisconsin). There is no single uniform approach under
company, trust, estate, or any other legal entity” (including
state law to addressing foreign ownership. Some general
“any foreign government”) under the laws of a foreign
categories include restrictions on the amount of land that
government or with a principal place of business outside the
can be owned or the duration of ownership; distinctions
United States. The regulations require foreign persons who
involving private versus public land or how agricultural
buy, sell, or gain interest in U.S. agricultural land to
land is defined; distinctions involving resident and
disclose their holdings and transactions to USDA directly or
nonresident aliens; inheritance considerations involving
to the Farm Service Agency county office where the land is
land ownership; restrictions on ownership of foreign
located. Failure to disclose this information may result in
corporations (e.g., corporate farming laws or requirements
penalties and fines. After the original disclosure (Form
corporations are subject to in order to obtain license or
FSA-153), each subsequent change of ownership or use
register); and differences related to enforcement and
must be reported. USDA compiles these data, with the most
penalties.
recent AFIDA report covering 2019.
Figure 1. Overview of Selected State Laws Related to
Foreign persons or entities may be eligible for certain
Foreign Ownership of U.S. Private Agricultural Land
USDA farm program benefits if they meet the same
requirements as domestic persons or entities. Specifically,
they must be either farming the land or landlords renting
land under a crop-share agreement, have the requisite U.S.
taxpayer ID, and meet the program’s eligibility and other
requirements. All persons or legal entities also must be
actively engaged in farming (7 U.S.C. §1308–1). Other
criteria may apply, such as limits on the entity’s adjusted
gross income. For background, see CRS Report R46248,
U.S. Farm Programs: Eligibility and Payment Limits.
Current law imposes no restrictions on foreign persons or

entities with respect to eligibility for crop and livestock
Source: CRS using data from the National Agricultural Law Center,
insurance premium subsidies. Other programs, such as the
https://nationalaglawcenter.org/state-compilations/aglandownership/.
Dairy Margin Coverage program, make no distinction about
a producer’s or owner’s citizenship. Similarly, no
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Foreign Farmland Ownership in the United States
USDA Data on Foreign Ownership
Introduced Legislation in Congress
USDA reports foreign persons and entities held an interest
Legislation before Congress seeks to increase oversight of
in 35.2 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2019,
foreign investment and ownership of U.S. agricultural land.
accounting for 2.7% of all privately owned agricultural
Several bills would amend the Defense Production Act of
land. USDA reports that foreign holdings of U.S.
1950 (50 U.S.C. 4565(k)(2)) to include the Secretary of
agricultural land have increased by an average of 2.3
Agriculture as a member of the Committee on Foreign
million acres per year since 2015. Most acreage increases
Investment in the United States (CFIUS). USDA is not
were in forestland, cropland, and pasture. These data cover
currently a member of CFIUS. CFIUS is an interagency
both foreign-owned and U.S. subsidiary-owned land.
committee authorized to review certain transactions
Forestland accounted for 49% of all foreign-owned private
involving foreign investment in the United States and real
land in 2019, cropland accounted for 25%, and pasture and
estate transactions by foreign persons, in order to determine
other agricultural land for 24%. Nonagricultural land, such
the effect of such transactions on U.S. national security.
as homesteads and roads, accounted for 2%.
Figure 2. Foreign Holdings of Agricultural Land, 2019
Individuals and entities in five countries accounted for more
than 62% of all foreign-owned agricultural land in 2019
(Table 1). As a share of all foreign-owned acres, these were
Canada (29%, mostly forestland), the Netherlands (14%),
Italy (7%), the United Kingdom (6%), and Germany (6%).
Other countries with foreign investments of more than
500,000 acres were Portugal, Denmark, Luxembourg,
Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, and Japan.
All 50 states report foreign investment/ownership in U.S.
private agricultural land (Figure 2). In 2019, states with the
highest number of foreign-owned acres were Texas (4.4

million acres), Maine (3.3 million acres), Alabama (1.8
Source: CRS from USDA data available at USDA, Foreign Holdings of
million acres), and Washington and Colorado (1.5 million
U.S. Agricultural Land Through December 31, 2019.
acres each). Other states with more than 1 million foreign-
owned acres were Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia,
Bills that would include USDA as a member of CFIUS
Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Oregon.
include H.R. 5490 (Foreign Adversary Risk Management
Act); H.R. 3413/S. 1755 (Agricultural Security Risk
Table 1. Foreign Holdings of Agricultural Land, 2019
Review Act); and S. 3089 (Food Security Is National

Ag. Acres
Share Foreign-
Share All U.S.
Security Act of 2021). S. 3089 also would include the
(millions) Owned Ag. Land Private Ag. Land
Secretary of Health and Human Services as a CFIUS
Canada
10.4
29.6%
0.81%
member. None of these bills would otherwise modify
Netherlands
4.8
13.7%
0.37%
CFIUS rules that might require under certain circumstances
Italy
2.5
7.2%
0.20%
a CFIUS review of most agricultural land transactions.
United Kingdom
2.1
6.1%
0.17%
However, S. 3089 would require consideration of the
Germany
2.0
5.7%
0.16%
“potential effects of the proposed or pending transaction on
Portugal
1.5
4.2%
0.11%
the security of the food and agriculture systems of the
Denmark
0.8
2.3%
0.06%
United States, including any effects on the availability of,
Luxembourg
0.8
2.2%
0.06%
access to, or safety and quality of food” in a CFIUS
Mexico
0.7
1.9%
0.05%
determination. H.R. 5490 also would require USDA and the
Cayman Islands
0.6
1.8%
0.05%
Government Accountability Office to each conduct an
Switzerland
0.6
1.7%
0.05%
analysis and report to Congress on the extent of foreign
Japan
0.5
1.5%
0.04%
influence in the U.S. agriculture industry.
China (excl. Hong Kong)
0.2
<0.7%
<0.02%
Russian Federation
<0.1
<0.01%
<0.02%
In addition, the House-passed FY2022 Agriculture
Iran
<0.1
<0.01%
<0.02%
appropriations bill would require USDA to take actions to
Top 5 Countries
21.9
62.3%
1.70%
“prohibit the purchase” of agricultural land by “companies
Top 10 Countries
26.3
74.7%
2.04%
owned, in full or in part, by China, Russia, Iran, or North
All Other Countries
5.0
16.55%
0.39%
Korea” (§777 of Division B in H.R. 4502). Similar
Country Not Listed
2.1
6.1%

provisions were not taken up in the Senate. USDA reports
Total Foreign-Held
35.2
100.0%
2.72%
Source: CRS from USDA, Foreign Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land
China, Russia, and Iran accounted for a combined total of
through December 31, 2019. Data are from Report 6, covering sole
0.2 million acres in 2019, or less than 0.7% of all foreign-
foreign and joint U.S. ownership (excluding nonagricultural land).
owned agricultural land (Table 1). China accounted for
“Country Not Listed” covers reporting codes 998 and 999. Al
nearly all of this reported acreage (98%), most of which
private held agricultural land totaled 1,290.5 mil ion acres in 2019.
(about 60%) was attributable to the purchase of U.S. pork
Note: USDA’s data are self-reported and may include errors and
omissions, as reported by the Midwest Center for Investigative
producer Smithfield Food by Chinese firm WH Group
Reporting (http://apps.investigatemidwest.org/afida/).
(formerly Shuanghui Int’l). USDA does not report any
foreign-owned agricultural acres attributable to North
Korea. The House Agriculture appropriations provision
would further restrict such foreign-owned agricultural land
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Foreign Farmland Ownership in the United States
owned by China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea from being
Renée Johnson, Specialist in Agricultural Policy
eligible to participate in programs administered by USDA.
IF11977


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