Column: Foreign investors are snapping up US land but exactly how much, who knows?


By Dave Dickey, Columnist, Investigate Midwest

Sep 21, 2022


Anybody who has kept an eye on agricultural doings knows that consolidation is occurring at an alarming rate. In the past couple of decades, competition between agricultural giants has become a fading memory. Even this short list is staggering:


         China's WH Group purchased Smithfield Foods the largest producer of U.S. pork in 2013 for a steal-of-a-deal $4.7 billion.

         Brazilian meat-producer JBS purchased a majority stake in Pilgrim's Pride for $800 million in 2009.

         German pharmaceutical Bayer AG purchased St. Louis-based Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018.

         ChemChina purchased Swiss-based seed and herbicide producer Syngenta for $43 billion in 2017. At the time, Syngenta owned a number of U.S. seed and chemical companies that accounted for roughly 6 percent of soybean seed sales and 10 percent of corn seed sales.


What do all these splashy headline acquisitions have in common? All are foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies. All well reported and documented.


It isn't just U.S. corporations that foreign companies are snapping up like Kmart Blue Light specials. Foreign acquisition of U.S. farmland has become big business. And the federal government's tally likely suffers from a huge undercount due to a joke of a law.


The Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act was passed in 1978 to keep track of foreign land acquisition of U.S. farmland. AFIDA requires:


         Foreign persons who acquire, transfer, or hold interests in agricultural land to report the transactions and holdings to the Secretary of Agriculture.

         USDA's Farm Service Agency to maintain for public inspection all reporting forms and related correspondence.

         Penalties to be assessed against foreign persons who fail to accurately and timely report.


Foreign entities acquiring at least a 10% interest in U.S. agricultural land (defined as a minimum of 10 acres or land capable of producing annual revenue of $1,000 or more from farming) are required to file with USDA a FSA-153 form, which lists among other things the type of owners, total acreage, value of the land, and its geographical location.


Due to either neglect or intentional misdirection of filers, many records are inaccurate or incomplete.


USDA has no interest or desire to monitor what's going on...


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