China is buying up American farms. Washington wants to crack down.
19 July 2021
By RYAN MCCRIMMON
Chinese firms have expanded their presence in American agriculture over the last decade by snapping up farmland and purchasing major agribusinesses, like pork processing giant Smithfield Foods. By the start of 2020, Chinese owners controlled about 192,000 agricultural acres in the U.S., worth $1.9 billion, including land used for farming, ranching and forestry, according to the Agriculture Department.
USDA reported in 2018 that China’s agricultural investments in other nations had grown more than tenfold since 2009. The Communist Party has actively supported investments in foreign agriculture as part of its “One Belt One Road” economic development plans, aiming to control a greater piece of China’s food supply chain.
A few states, including top agricultural centers like Iowa and Minnesota, already have varying restrictions on foreign ownership of their farmland. As a presidential candidate in 2019, Warren said she would support a national version of Iowa’s law along with safeguards against foreign investors using “fake American buyers” to circumvent the rules.
Foreign investors can set up limited liability companies in the U.S. and designate an American owner to circumvent the reporting requirements while still controlling the operation behind the scenes, said Joe Maxwell, president of the progressive advocacy group Family Farm Action.
“It’s a massive undertaking to verify who really owns [the land],” Maxwell said. “These foreign interests are pretty smart. They use different business structures to further conceal it.”