January 26, 2024

Young, Braun, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Collect More Information on Foreign Ag Land Ownership

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) joined a bipartisan group of senators in introducing a bill to collect more information about foreign ownership of agricultural land in the United States.

This bill was prompted by a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), released last week, titled, “Foreign Investments in U.S. Agricultural Land: Enhancing Efforts to Collect, Track, and Share Key Information Could Better Identify National Security Risks.” 

Under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) of 1978, foreign persons who acquire, dispose of, or hold an interest in U.S. agricultural land are required to disclose those transactions to the USDA.

Last week’s GAO report found that the USDA process for complying with AFIDA is ill-equipped to fully combat nefarious foreign ownership of American agricultural land by foreign adversaries.

According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data from December 2021, foreign investors own approximately 40.8 million acres of U.S. agricultural land. Foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land increased modestly increased from 2009 to 2015 at an average increase of 0.8 million acres per year. However, since 2017, this number skyrocketed to an annual average of 2.9 million acres. Additionally, between 2010 and 2021, entities or individuals from China increased their ownership of U.S. agricultural land from 13,720 acres to 383,935 acres.

The AFIDA Improvements Act of 2024 will take the following actions to improve the USDA’s processes, drawn largely from recommendations from the GAO report:

  1. Streamline CFIUS Data Sharing: Require USDA to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to govern data sharing between USDA and CFIUS member agencies within one year of enactment.
  2. Modernize the AFIDA Handbook: Direct USDA to update the agency’s handbook for officials to collect AFIDA data within one year of enactment. This handbook was last updated in 2006.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

In addition to Senators Young and Braun, Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), and Katie Britt (R-Ala.) also cosponsored the bill.

“This is an important national security issue on the minds of many Hoosiers, particularly in our Indiana agriculture community. As we seek to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to manipulate markets, this legislation will provide critical information and transparency to better protect our homeland,” said Senator Young.

“Many Americans are worried about adversarial foreign countries buying up American farmland and jeopardizing our food supply chain. This bipartisan bill will improve the USDA’s system for collecting information on purchases of farmland by foreign nationals better identify transactions that should have been reported but weren’t,” said Senator Braun.

“Most folks understand that food security is national security, and that our foreign adversaries wouldn’t hesitate to undermine our country by messing with our food supply. We need policy changes to better track who is buying up our farmland and to crack down on bad actors like China who want to get a foothold on American soil. My new bipartisan bill will ensure we have the data we need to successfully execute my ongoing push to block our foreign enemies from buying up our farmland,” said Senator Tester.

“Farmland is one of the most precious resources we have as Americans. As an Iowan, I’ve long fought to ensure that we can protect our food and ag systems from bad actors seeking to exploit loopholes. This critical effort will allow us to better scrutinize and track foreign land investments and ultimately safeguard our homeland,” said Senator Ernst.

“Foreign adversaries, especially China, have bought up prime farmland across this country for decades, but we don’t have a good handle on how much and where because of lax, outdated disclosure laws. It’s a problem for family farmers and rural communities, and it’s a threat to our national security. This bill is essential to update the rules and shine a light on foreign entities that own agricultural land across the country,” said Senator Brown.

“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. This bipartisan legislation forces transparency and accountability from the USDA by requiring them to collect, track, and share key information on foreign investments. Food security is national security; adversarial nations’ uptick in foreign land ownership presents unique threats to our food supply. We must get a better handle on these investments,” said Senator Marshall.

“Americans are rightfully worried about foreign adversaries, like China, owning our farmland and threatening our food security. Our bipartisan bill addresses that concern head-on by giving the USDA better tools to track foreign land purchases, and to report them to our national security agencies in real-time,” said Senator Rubio.

“It’s time for USDA’s antiquated AFIDA reporting process to get with the times. They need to work more with CFIUS to ensure we can protect our domestic food supply and national security from any potential threats from foreign countries. This is an issue that worries folks across the country, and it’s important that we take action to ensure our farmland is not in the wrong hands,” said Senator Schmitt.

“Food security is national security. We can’t lose sight of the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is our greatest geopolitical and national security threat, and everything they do is as our adversary. This bipartisan, commonsense bill helps ensure the proper tools are in place to safeguard American farmland from the CCP and other foreign adversaries, so hardworking families across our nation will continue to have a reliable food supply for generations to come,”said Senator Britt.

This bill is supported by the Agribusiness Council of Indiana, the Indiana Corn Growers Association, and the Indiana Soybean Alliance.

Full legislative text can be found here.