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Weekly Column: Safeguarding Idaho Farmland

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

There has been increased concern in Idaho and across the country regarding Chinese companies’ purchases of U.S. farmland.  Idaho agricultural land is a precious resource that should be protected from foreign adversaries.  I recently co-sponsored legislation that would prevent foreign adversaries’ purchases or investment in U.S. farmland.

There are no federal restrictions on the amount of private American agricultural land that can be owned by foreign entities.  However, since 1978, federal law has required foreign persons or entities to disclose foreign investment and ownership of U.S. agricultural land to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  According to a 2021 report from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), Chinese investors own 192,000 acres of farmland (cropland, pasture, forests or other agricultural lands) in the U.S.  The same report indicates Iranian investors own more than 2,300 acres of agricultural lands in the U.S., while Russian investors own less than 100 acres. 

In Idaho, according to the FSA data, more than 127,000 agricultural acres are owned by foreign investors.  The FSA report provides the following breakdown of the countries of those foreign investors and the acres attributed to each:

  • Canada: 13,206 acres;
  • Netherlands: 1,804 acres;
  • United Kingdom: 14,468 acres;
  • Germany: 12,589 acres; and
  • All others: 85,285.

Fourteen states already have some level of restriction on foreign ownership of land.  The Idaho House of Representatives passed, on March 2, 2023, by a vote of 69-0, HB173 that amends existing law to provide that a foreign government or foreign state-controlled enterprise shall not purchase, acquire, or hold any interest in certain types of property in Idaho.  The Idaho Senate amended the House bill, and passed it by a vote of 64-0 before Idaho Governor Brad Little signed it into law on April 3, 2023. 

At the federal level, I co-sponsored the Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security (PASS) Act, which seeks to prevent foreign adversaries like China from purchasing or investing in U.S. farmland.  The legislation would:

  • Prohibit China, Russia, Iran and North Korea from purchasing U.S. farmland and agricultural companies;
  • Add the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture as a standing member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to consider agriculture needs when making determinations affecting our national security; and
  • Require the President to submit a report to Congress on any waiver granted to a prohibited country.

In March, the Idaho Farm Bureau was among a group of 25 food and agricultural groups that released a report quantifying the jobs, wages and economic output of agricultural production across our country.  The group reported, “the food and ag industry in Idaho is responsible for 370,878 jobs in the state, as well as $21.9 billion in total wages, $7.5 billion in taxes and $1 billion in exports.”  Agricultural land in Idaho and across our country is far too important to let it be bought up by foreign adversaries.  We must protect this important sector, while we safeguard our national security interests.  I look forward to the enactment of the PASS Act to better safeguard this essential resource. 

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