Foreign farmland ownership accounts for only 2.7% of US according to USDA
USDA reports foreign persons and entities held an interest in 35.2 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2019, accounting for 2.7% of all privately owned agricultural land. USDA reports that foreign holdings of U.S. agricultural land have increased by an average of 2.3 million acres per year since 2015. Most acreage increases were in forestland, cropland, and pasture.
These data cover both foreign-owned and U.S. subsidiary-owned land. Forestland accounted for 49% of all foreign-owned private land in 2019, cropland accounted for 25%, and pasture and other agricultural land for 24%. Nonagricultural land, such as homesteads and roads, accounted for 2%. Individuals and entities in five countries accounted for more than 62% of all foreign-owned agricultural land in 2019.
As a share of all foreign-owned acres, these were Canada (29%, mostly forestland), the Netherlands (14%), Italy (7%), the United Kingdom (6%), and Germany (6%). Other countries with foreign investments of more than 500,000 acres were Portugal, Denmark, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, and Japan. Notably absent in the report was the country of China.
All 50 states report foreign investment/ownership in U.S. private agricultural land. In 2019, states with the highest number of foreign-owned acres were Texas (4.4 million acres), Maine (3.3 million acres), Alabama (1.8 million acres), and Washington and Colorado (1.5 million acres each). Other states with more than 1 million foreign owned acres were Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Oregon.
Current law imposes no restrictions on foreign persons or entities with respect to eligibility for crop and livestock insurance premium subsidies. Other programs, such as the Dairy Margin Coverage program, make no distinction about a producer’s or owner’s citizenship. Similarly, no citizenship requirement exists for a sugar processor, or a cane or beet producer, operating under the U.S. sugar program.
However, foreign persons or entities are not eligible for permanent disaster assistance programs, such as the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program; Livestock Forage Disaster Program; Livestock Indemnity Program; and Tree Assistance Program. The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program also explicitly prohibits payments to foreign entities other than resident aliens.
There have been efforts recently in the US Congress to pass legislation that would effectively “prohibit the purchase” of agricultural land by “companies owned, in full or in part, by China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea”. Other related legislation seeks to limit the eligibility of foreign persons and entities for USDA farm program benefits.
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS), Renée Johnson, Specialist in Agriculture Policy