Bill addresses concerns with foreign ownership of farmland

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act Improvements Act of 2024, which would shine a light on foreign adversaries that buy up farmland in Ohio by strengthening the reporting and enforcement of foreign ownership of agricultural land in the United States. It would strengthen current law, which requires foreign persons who acquire, dispose of, or hold an interest in U.S. agricultural land to disclose those transactions to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The law hasn’t been updated in years, and has too many loopholes that allow foreign entities to conceal their identities and hide the true extent of the problem. 

The legislation builds on Brown’s ongoing work to ban foreign adversaries — like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea — from getting a foothold in the U.S., particularly near U.S. military installations. Last year Brown’s bill to protect Ohio farmland from China passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support as part of the Senate’s annual defense bill.  

“Foreign adversaries, especially China, have bought up prime farmland across this country for decades, but we don’t have a good handle on how much and where because of lax, outdated disclosure laws. It’s a problem for family farmers and rural communities, and it’s a threat to our national security,” Brown said. “This bill is essential to update the rules and shine a light on foreign entities that own agricultural land across the country.”

The bill would specifically strengthen the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) by implementing several recommendations put forward in a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), titled, “Foreign Investments in U.S. Agricultural Land: Enhancing Efforts to Collect, Track, and Share Key Information Could Better Identify National Security Risks.” The GAO’s report found alarming gaps in how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently tracks foreign investments, detailing how the USDA process for complying with AFIDA is ill-equipped to fully combat nefarious foreign ownership of American agricultural land by foreign adversaries.

“Ohio Farm Bureau members have had the issue of foreign ownership of farmland on their radar for some time and their concerns have increased over the past few years. With recently passed policy at the state and national levels, Farm Bureau members are sending a clear message for lawmakers that there needs to be more attention paid to foreign ownership of farmland in Ohio and across the U.S. We appreciate Senator Brown’s bipartisan work to do just that and support the AFIDA Improvements Act of 2024,” said Adam Sharp, Executive Vice President of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

According to USDA data from December 2021, foreign investors own approximately 40.8 million acres of U.S. agricultural land. Foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land increased modestly increased from 2009 to 2015 at an average increase of 0.8 million acres per year. However, since 2017, this number skyrocketed to an annual average of 2.9 million acres. Additionally, between 2010 and 2021, entities or individuals from China increased their ownership of U.S. agricultural land from 13,720 acres to 383,935 acres.  

The AFIDA Improvements Act of 2024 would take the following actions to improve the USDA’s processes, drawn largely from recommendations from the GAO report: 

  1. Streamline CFIUS data sharing: Require USDA to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to govern data sharing between USDA and CFIUS member agencies within one year of enactment.
  2. Modernize the AFIDA Handbook: Direct USDA to update the agency’s handbook for officials to collect AFIDA data within one year of enactment. This handbook was last updated in 2006.
  3. Implement current law: Require USDA to develop and report to Congress a timeline to meet specific implementation benchmarks for an online AFIDA submission system and public database. While Congress has required USDA to implement an online system by 2025, GAO discovered that USDA “has not developed timelines for creating an online submission process [or] a public database.”
  4. Improve data verification and monitoring: Direct and empower USDA to take any such actions as are necessary to validate foreign ownership data collected under AFIDA.
  5. Identify Suspected Non-Filers: Direct USDA to better leverage Farm Service Agency data to identify individuals who have illegally not filed transactions with foreign persons under AFIDA.
  6. Collect Data from Every Foreign Investor: Require reporting for foreign persons with a minority stake in an agricultural land asset, including through ownership tiers or shell companies.

In addition to Brown, U.S. Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) Jon Tester (D-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), John Fetterman (D-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Eric Schmitt (R-MO).In September 2022, Brown introduced the Farm Credit for Americans Act that would prevent foreign individuals from obtaining credit and financial services through the Farm Credit System. Currently, certain foreign individuals and entities are eligible to receive credit through this government-sponsored enterprise.

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