US government officials failed to keep tabs on developers from China, Russia, Iran, and other American adversaries, who were allowed to purchase acreage near areas vital to nation’ security.
About a year ago, the US Air Force shot down plans for a North Dakota land deal involving a party with deep ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
It appears no real lessons have been learned about land security issues by anyone in our federal government.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals that at least 40 million acres of US farmland, pastures, and forests are now owned by foreign investors, which officials warn ‘may have consequences for national security.’
A new watchdog report found that foreign ownership of US land – including buyers from adversarial nations like China, Russia and Iran – has increased by 40 percent since 2016, with some plots near sensitive military facilities.
As well as espionage concerns, there is growing alarm about the integrity of America’s food supply chains.
….The new Congressional analysis has caused fury among Democrats and Republicans, who demanded the Biden Administration clamp down on purchases ‘from adversaries’ to shore up America’s defenses.
Democratic Senator Jon Tester said: ‘While we learn more about the specifics around this unfolding situation, it highlights the need for Congress to do more to protect American agricultural security and prevent our foreign adversaries from controlling our country’s food supply while also gaining access to land near sensitive military sites.’
Republican Representative Dan Newhouse also shared his outrage after GAO released its findings.
‘This report confirms one of our worst fears: that not only is the e United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unable to answer the question of who owns what land and where, but that there is no plan by the department to internally reverse this dangerous flaw that affects our supply chain and economy,’ Newhouse said.
Foreign developers procured a significant portion of this acreage during large land transactions.
The amount of farm and forest land held by investors outside the U.S. totaled 43.4 million acres, an 8.5% increase from 2021 to 2022. Foreign investors now make up 3.4% of privately-held agricultural land and nearly 2% of all U.S. land, the USDA said Tuesday.
Large land purchases in three states accounted for 45% of the difference. Alabama and Michigan saw an uptick in forest land activity, while Colorado’s increase was mostly cropland and pasture.
It appears the government officials in charge of overseeing who is buying American property and where are failing to keep tabs on these purchases.
The report, which was requested by the House Oversight and Accountability Committee and the House Committee on Agriculture, said that the Department of Agriculture does “not share timely data on foreign investments in agricultural land,” and that the processes in place for sharing the data are complex and difficult to understand.
…The report listed several recommendations for the USDA to take to improve their reporting system, including establishing a more timely process to report foreign investments and updating the forms used to report the data.
“This report confirms one of our worst fears: that not only is the USDA unable to answer the question of who owns what land and where, but that there is no plan by the department to internally reverse this dangerous flaw that affects our supply chain and economy. Food security is national security, and we cannot allow foreign adversaries to influence our food supply while we stick our heads in the sand,” Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) said in response to the report’s release.
Many states are taking a page out of the Texas playbook and establishing more oversight procedures on land transactions, which is poised to continue through 2024.
Since its constitution was approved in 1890, [Mississippi] has had provisions restricting land ownership by “nonresident aliens,” the report noted. But the committee concluded current state law “lacks a clear, workable enforcement mechanism.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that foreign interests held some 757,000 acres of Mississippi’s agricultural land, about 2.5% of the total. [Mississippi’s commissioner of agriculture and commerce Andy] Gipson hopes the Republican-led legislature will stiffen the law in the upcoming session.
“I think the time is going to be right in 2024 for the legislature to tighten these laws up,” he said.
If the legislature acts, Mississippi will join a growing group of states seeking to ban or further restrict foreign ownership of farmland. Lawmakers are targeting nations considered hostile to U.S. interests, such as China and Russia, and looking for new enforcement measures. Many see Arkansas as leading the latter push; officials there invoked a new law in October that bans certain foreign owners and ordered a Chinese seed company to divest its land.
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