Lawmakers and agricultural specialists from both political leanings are warning against the lack of record-keeping on foreign entities acquiring U.S. land. In the House, bills have been drawn to propose changes to the sale and record of foreign land parcel purchases of U.S. farmland. Agriculture professionals, who spoke with ABC 13 in January, warned that lack-standard data in U.S. agricultural records challenges the nature of property ownership in the U.S.
The House Delibrates; Data Transparency Stands In Question
Bills to limit foreign ownership of U.S. land include the Republican sponsored H.R. 6383, “National Security Moratorium on Foreign Purchases of U.S. Land,” and H.R. 3847, “Securing America’s Land from Foreign Interference Act,” and H.R. 4502. Recent laws would seek updates of older, regarded-as-outdated legislation, such as the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978. Lawmakers moved to enforce stricter transparency regulations for foreign buyers of private U.S. agriculture land after reports indicated that the USDA had failed to enforce this act.
An Increasing Statistic of Foreign Land Investments
In 2020, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency released a disclosure report on foreign entity U.S. land parcel transactions within the United States. Coming to the fore was the concern over purchases made by the People’s Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong), Russia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and North Korea. While incrementally small, the USDA reports land ownership and sales of private land parcels to China, Russia, and Iran within calendar year 2020.
Breitbart reported that a prominent Chinese national billionaire had purchased acreage for wind farm production near Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas in August 2021. Near the Texas border, this purchase was reportedly alarming as a potential compounding factor of Texas’ already precarious border security status.
As of 2022, foreign investment in U.S. farmland has “nearly tripled in the past decade,” according to Midwest Center referring to USDA data.
Various data collections report purchases of private land by China, Russia, and Iran. However, the USDA reports do not disclose the name of investors or the location of the parcels in question. Missing or unclear data reportedly poses concerns for the validity and transparency of USDA record keeping.
The Vantage Points Of Hostile Actors
In the wake of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, and the vantage points Russia took from surrounding territory when making its incursion on Ukraine, questions arise for U.S. security (see Center for Strategic International Studies) . What vantage point could states hostile to the U.S. gain from purchase of private land parcels in U.S. domestic territory? What vantage points may already be used for malign practices?
Gray Areas Under The Law
Advances in modern innovation increase the demand for agricultural lands, natural resources, and in many cases, mineral rights control. Theoretically, foreign actors may gain vantage points through the control of natural resources and farmland. China and Russia’s advantages in the end of the American mission in Afghanistan were a subject of hot debate following U.S. withdrawal.
Mineral rights control is governed in part by the Minerals and Geology Program of the USDA. Concerns over the USDA’s farmland foreign investment data transparency applies in a broader sense to other lands and resources under its governance, and laws arbitrating foreign rights to U.S. natural resources.
In a May report prepared by Christopher J. Reagen and John D. Fognani, Haynes and Boone LLP analyzed recent General Mining Law. Haynes and Boone concluded that, under the current law, the U.S. government provides a process of discovery where the initial finder of a mining source can “patent” the mining rights to a find.
Haynes and Boone write that there are some restrictions for non-U.S. mining acquisitions, but that the process of discovery applies to foreign and domestic claimants:
“There is generally no distinction between the mining rights that may be acquired by domestic parties and those that may be acquired by foreign parties,” Haynes and Boone wrote.
“Regarding mining activity on privately held land, no citizenship requirements or foreign investment restrictions exist as such. Generally, non-US citizens and residents can own real property in the United States,” the report continued.
Questions Posed By Foreign Land Investment and Transparency
Haynes and Boone state that, to protect national security interests, the Committee of Foreign Investment (CFI) in the United States has the right to review national security concerns over foreign mining investments.
Evaluations of the CFI’s transparency have been ongoing. Securing Democracy called into question “the opacity of foreign investment” in the U.S. in 2019. Recent events sparked a renewed counterbalance strategy from U.S. defense and its allies. The relationship between the U.S., China, and Russia intensifies as the motivations of China and Russia’s relations become increasingly more “complicated” (see European Council on Foreign Relations).
Following the reports that the USDA agriculture foreign investment disclosures have been underrepresented, raises questions. That China, Russia, and Iran, own U.S. farmland presents precarious scenarios for concerned specialists.
American Pigeon Investigates
As foreign investments double, while greater regulation and transparency remains unclear, American Pigeon continues to investigate the risks to national security from foreign investment claims to U.S. land.
Jacob Yusufov contributed to this report.