Canada Tops Foreign-Owned Ag Lands in U.S.; China Increasing

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Sugarcane fields and farmlands south of Lake Okeechobee Florida in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

By Clint Thompson

Foreign investments in U.S. agricultural land continues to be a trendy topic in agricultural and political circles. But one industry leader wants people to know that not all foreign purchases have evil intentions. In fact, the most don’t, says Mykel Taylor, ALFA (Alabama Farmers Federation) Eminent Scholar with Auburn University.

“I think we will be wise to track it, and I think in some cases there’s nothing to worry about. But we want to be conscientious that we’re not just opening up the door for everybody. I just want people to be aware of what the reality is and who’s actually buying and not be afraid that just because it’s a foreign investor, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have nefarious intentions.”

Canada Tops List

Canada owns the most U.S. agricultural land among foreign countries, equating to 3.8 million acres, more than doubling Italy, which is second with 1.6 million acres.

The country that Americans are concerned with is China. China owns 160,717 acres in Texas, 49,253 acres in North Carolina, 13,848 acres in Florida and 1,972 acres in Georgia.

Its land holdings remain small, though it has increased dramatically in the past decade.

“It’s come from a couple of large purchases. The first one in 2013 with the purchase of Smithfield (147,752 acres) and all of their subsidiary assets which are spread across several different states, though they’re based in North Carolina. Then there was a large purchase in western Texas. Those were looking for wind farms,” Taylor said.

Non-Friendly Countries

“Are we selling land to non-friendly countries, and if we are, what might they do with that land? I think there’s a general concern about China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Most people aren’t worried about the Canadians, and they own the vast majority of agricultural land that is foreign owned in the U.S. I think from a media standpoint, you get a lot of attention by saying foreign ownership is a bad thing. But we have to ask ourselves, the Chinese own a small portion, that we may have preferences if we want that to change because it has grown in the last 10 years. We’re watching that, but the majority of it is being owned by the Europeans and Canadians.”

Foreign investors now own nearly 37.6 million acres of agricultural land in the U.S. Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville and Arkansas senator Tom Cotton introduced the Securing America’s Land from Foreign Interference Act to prohibit members of the Chinese Communist Party from purchasing any land in the U.S.