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States See Chinese Purchase of Farmland as a Threat to National Security

A Predator drone owned by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection sits on the tarmac awaiting takeoff from the agency's Grand Forks Air Force Base operations in North Dakota. Dave Kolpack | AP file photo
A Predator drone owned by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection sits on the tarmac awaiting takeoff from the agency’s Grand Forks Air Force Base operations in North Dakota. Dave Kolpack | AP file photo

By: Kim Jarrett

Several states have already banned or are considering banning foreign ownership of farmland from U.S. adversaries such as China, a trend that has its recent roots in North Dakota.

Chinese food manufacturer Fufeng Group purchased 370 acres of land for a corn milling plant in Grand Forks in November 2021.

By January 2023, the Grand Forks City Council announced it would deny building permits for the plant, killing the project 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The pressure came from state and federal officials concerned about the proposed plant's ties to China and its proximity to the base. A report from the Air Force that officially called the purchase of the land a "threat to national security" sealed the transaction's fate.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 40.8 million acres of U.S. farmland is owned by foreign citizens, companies or countries as of 2021. China owned about 384,000 acres of U.S. farmland.

While the Grand Forks plan is dead, states' efforts to prevent China and other communist countries from owning land are ongoing.

North Dakota lawmakers this session passed a bill that prevents city or county governments from entering into land deals with foreign adversaries. Other legislators have also introduced or passed bills dealing with foreign ownership of agricultural land.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem was one of the first governors to ban the Chinese-owned app TikTok from state-owned devices, but her push to ban the country and others from purchasing land was not as successful.

The state banned aliens from owning more than 160 acres of land in 1979. Lawmakers wanted to establish the "Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – South Dakota," which would scrutinize all foreign farmland purchases.

Senate Bill 185 failed to make it out of the Senate.

Republicans in Arizona also failed to pass a bill banning foreign entities from owning land in their state. It passed the Senate but did not garner enough votes in the House.

Other states are having more success with passing similar legislation.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed Senate Bill 203 this session that bans land purchases by what it refers to as "foreign adversaries," defined as "any foreign government or foreign non government person determined by the U.S. secretary of commerce to have engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to the national security of the United States …"

The governor’s office identified China, North Korea, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela in a news release about signing the legislation.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation in May that prohibits the sale of farmland and land near military bases to the Chinese Communist Party and its agents. The measure also prevents any governmental entity from knowingly entering into contracts with the CCP, or countries and entities of concern. The attorney general will able to bring a civil action against any entity in violation and the civil penalty for doing so will be twice the amount that the entity submitted a bid or proposal.

North Carolina representatives passed a bill that prevents adversarial foreign governments from acquiring farmland or property near military installations. The legislation is in the Senate.

Texas senators passed a bill that would ban foreign nationals from countries posing security threats, including China, from purchasing farmland but the measure didn't get through the House. Gov. Greg Abbott supports the ban and he could add it to the list of items during a summer legislative session he is expected to call.

The possibility of foreign entities owning farmlands is not just a Republican issue. State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, introduced a bill in heavily-Democratic California that would track foreign ownership of farmland and ban foreign purchases in 2024. The bill was placed in the Legislature's suspense file, killing it for this session.

Federal level

More than 45 members of Congress signed on to the "Prohibition of Agricultural Land for the People’s Republic of China Act." The bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., in 2022 but did not make it out of committee. The current bill is in two committees – Foreign Affairs and Agriculture.

The Senate is considering a bipartisan bill banning several countries from purchasing American farmland. The "Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security Act" would add the secretary of agriculture to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The lead sponsors are Sens. John Tester, D-Mont., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D. The bill is assigned to the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Related Story: Bill Would Bar Chinese Interests from American Farmland

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