Johnson, 129 House Republicans ask for review of foreign investments in U.S. farmland

Dominik Dausch
Sioux Falls Argus Leader
U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson

Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-South Dakota) and 129 House Republicans signed a letter Saturday, asking the Government Accountability Office to review "foreign investments in U.S. farmland and its impact on national security, trade, and food security."

The letter, addressed to GAO head and Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, asks the office to investigate the amount of foreign investment in the nation's agricultural land. It also requests an overview on how the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency collects data on foreign investment, how the federal government uses said data to ensure national security, and other procedures regarding the disclosure of foreign ag land acquisitions.

"The reason we're asking the GAO is we want a more granular understanding of who is buying what and what they're doing with it," Johnson told Farm Forum on Tuesday. "This letter's just asking for additional information, which we sorely need."

According to the FSA's latest Foreign Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land report, nearly 37.6 million acres of U.S. agricultural forest and farm land are held by foreign investors, constituting 2.9% of all privately held agricultural land in the U.S. The report also shows foreign holdings have increased an average of nearly 2.2 million acres annually since 2015.

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The report also indicates the majority of foreign investment in ag and non-ag land is held by Canadian investors, whom own 12.4 million acres. The Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany collectively represent 12 million foreign-held acres in the U.S.

The remaining 13.9 million acres of all foreign-owned ag and non-ag land, the report indicates, is divided between various other countries. China owns 352,140 acres, which is less than 1% of all foreign-held acres.

The letter stated a concern that investors from China and Saudi Arabia have increased their investment in U.S. ag land and that foreign renewable energy companies may use purchased agricultural acres for non-ag uses, essentially removing that farmland from production.

The letter also references Chinese food manufacturer Fufeng Group's purchase of 300 acres of land near Grand Forks Air Force Base, which stirred concerns about national security in Washington.

'China is an adversary'

Between U.S.-China's relationship reaching its lowest point in decades and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan fraying an already-damage cord between the two countries, Johnson iterated a desire to keep a boundary between the nation's ag land and the eastern country.

On Wednesday, Johnson joined American actors Mark Kassen and Chris Evans on their civic engagement app, "A Starting Point," to share his perspective on the contest between the U.S. and China on who will stay the leading global world power.

"China's trying to have incredible control over the American supply chain, particularly around food, and I think we need to be concerned about that. China has purchased 1,400 agricultural processing facilities over the last few year — in this county and elsewhere — at a value of over $35 billion. I don't think we should give our adversaries that kind of control over our food," Johnson told the ASP hosts.

Johnson is a co-sponsor on the Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security (PASS) Act, which would blacklist countries considered "adversarial" from purchasing U.S. ag companies. He also co-leads the Prohibition of Agricultural Land for the People’s Republic of China Act, which would specifically prohibit individuals and businesses associated with China's government from purchasing ag land.

"China is an adversary. They make that very clear and have for years with their strategic documents. They have a stated goal of drastically increasing their holdings of foreign farmland and foreign ag processing, and I don't think we're paying enough attention to that issue," Johnson told Farm Forum. "The best time to shut the barn door is before all the cattle are out."

Johnson clarified he does not want a situation where "countries are coming on and off the list." He clarified the legislation is intended to deter "generational adversaries" from having access to the nation's food and supply chains.

"I don't know how else we'd be able to accomplish our policy goals without prohibiting their sales," Johnson said. "I think this is part of the solution, but it's not the only bullet we want ready to go."