China Is Raking In US Farmland

The United States of America prides itself on being the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is also rapidly becoming the land of the foreign farmer as other countries compete to purchase American soil.

In the good old days before industrialized mega-farms, any old body with a hoe and a rake (or a plow and a team) could till the ground and try to scratch out a living. Some of the pioneering agrarians prospered while many failed, especially during the hard times during the Dust Bowl, a severe and extended drought that plagued the American midwest during the early 1930s and caused devastating, crop-killing dust storms.

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American farming shifted toward mass industrialization when Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon was President. In 1971, Tricky Dick appointed a new United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary. Earl “Rusty” Butz dared farmers to “get big or get out.” Butz was loud, obnoxious, and pushed his own agenda, no matter which little guys got hurt, paving the way for an end to Roosevelt’s New Deal policies:

“He plunged a pitchfork into New Deal agricultural policies that sought to protect farmers from the big agribusiness companies whose interests he openly pushed.”

Nixon’s administration put many family farms out of business as agricultural dollars swiveled toward funding huge, highly-mechanized mega farms:

“Support shifted from small family farms to large, highly mechanized mega-farms dependent on vast monocrops and costly inputs. This system is proving to be unsustainable for farmers…”

Federal farm census data shows that factory farms continue to grow in size and number. U.S. farmland costs, on average, $4,000 per acre. The typical farm has about 1,100 acres.

The USDA released its 2018 summary report titled “Farms and Land in Farms” in April 2019. Last year, just shy of 900 billion acres of land was in farms – 899,500,000, to be exact.

Would you be surprised to learn that, as of 2015, almost 30 million of those U.S. farm acres were owned by foreign corporations? This number – “at least 26.8 million” – has been increasing over the past 30 years and almost doubled over the previous ten years.

Some crops such as corn and alfalfa feed livestock rather than people. American megafarms with hefty surpluses cater to foreign markets to sell their goods. The foreign buyers, meanwhile, want to cut costs by eliminating the middle person. Their solution is to buy the farm and take over running the operation.

2018 report published in the Drake Journal of Law (“Acquisition and Disposition of U.S. Agricultural Land by Foreign Investors: Federal and State Legislative Restrictions, Limitations, and Disclosure Requirements”) put the current situation into perspective:

“As of 2017, eight foreign-owned companies were among the top twenty-five largest food and beverage companies in the U.S.”

Land ownership is a legal matter under state jurisdiction and rules differ between states. Ty Higgins, Ohio Farm Bureau Director of Media Relations, revealed that some parts of the American West are still a bit wild where American soil sales are concerned:

“Texas is kind of a free-for-all, so they don’t have a limit on how much land can be owned.”

Not so with Iowa, according to Higgins, who said, “you look at Iowa and they restrict it—no land in Iowa is owned by a foreign entity.”

The real danger with selling off American farmland (or any land) is that “once a foreign entity buys up however many acres they want, Americans might never be able to secure that land again. So, once we lose it, we may lose it for good,” as Higgins explained.

China is an enormous country but only 11 percent of its land is farmable. Industrial growth without effective environmental protection policies in the Communist country have, over the years, created a nightmare landscape of polluted land, air, and water. Many Chinese people don’t trust the safety of food sold in local groceries.

China needs food and where does that come from? Farms. In 2016, a foreign policy report noted that China worried about its 1.3 billion hungry mouths to feed:

“Food security, the ability to ensure ample and affordable supplies of food for all, is a political headache for leaders in Beijing, who are all too aware that staying in power means keeping rice bowls filled.”

In September 2013, Shuanghui Group, the largest pork producer in the world and the largest meat producer in China, stirred up controvery when it bought Smithfield Foods, the leading pork processor in the U.S. for just under $4.7 billion.

The deal included more than 146,000 acres of farmland across the United States, worth a staggering $500 million, according to USDA data.

Operations remained in the U.S. but, even before the China acquisition, between 2000-2015, the nation’s largest hog and pork producer had been accused of hiring illegal aliens, making annual donations of low-quality meats to the poor, pig abuse, and an overly-aggressive advertising program that flaunted high priced and conspicious consumerism.

As Chinese companies and government officials continue to focus on acquiring established agribusiness companies based in countries foreign to them (including the U.S.), Americans need to ask how much foreign land ownership is acceptible to us?

American farmers are going bankrupt, giving foreigners the opportunity to grab U.S. soil. As one concerned citizen wrote:

“Our founders never intended for America to be for sale to the highest bidder, and hopefully more states will start passing laws that will make sure that U.S. farms stay in the hands of U.S. farmers.”

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