America is ‘not for sale’ |

America is ‘not for sale’

Several states are looking at legislation to restrict foreign ownership of agricultural land. Maria Tibbetts | for Tri-State Livestock News

According to USDA, 40.8 million acres of US ag land, or about 3.1 percent of privately held land is owned by a foreign person or entity.

Several states are working on legislation to restrict or stop foreign interests from owning or leasing agricultural land. Federal legislation would prohibit companies based in countries from buying or leasing land.

Image courtesy USDA

South Dakota Senator Tobin, District 21, Winner, is carrying SB 185 in the South Dakota legislature that would establish the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – South Dakota and revise provisions related to the foreign ownership or control of agricultural land. The committee (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States) would be appointed by the governor, and would be charged with “investigating and reviewing agricultural land transactions to prevent aliens and foreign persons, including foreign governments, from gaining undue control or influence, whether direct or indirect, over the state’s food supply, from gaining access or proximity to any critical infrastructure facility, or from impairing the security or prosperity of the state.”
The committee have the responsibility of approving or denying the purchase of land by foreign entities, but the governor would be provided veto power over the board.

Existing South Dakota law prohibits foreign entities from owning more than 160 acres of agricultural land, with a few exceptions. However, this law relies on “self-reporting,” said Senator Tobin. “So we have no idea, really, how much is owned by these foreign entities.”

While the Senate Ag and Natural Resources Committee did unanimously pass the bill to establish a CIFIUS board, which is said to be backed by Governor Noem, every ag group who testified spoke in opposition to the bill.

Vaughn Meyer, on behalf of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, said his group definitely supports a restriction on foreigners owning land in South Dakota.

However, his group had three main concerns about the language in the bill.

First off, the bill calls for the CIFIUS board to review purchases or leases of over 160 acres. The Stockgrowers believe all purchases/ leases of any size ought to be considered.

Second, the Stockgrowers believe the committee ought to be set up through the legislature, rather than appointed by the governor.

Third, the bill provides the CIFIUS board and governor one year to make a decision on land purchases and lease. The Stockgrowers believe a year is too long – they would like to see the decision made “almost immediately.” Meyer said this language is a little vague.

The Stockgrowers would support the bill if those issues were cleaned up, Meyer said.

Tobin, who is carrying the bill, said she, personally, has concerns about foreign entities having the ability to purchase land in South Dakota, which could compromise our national security.

“For instance, we know that communist China is keeping track of certain technologies – facial recognition and such. It’s not necessarily that they are coming out and visibly attacking, but they are going through the back door with technology, data collection and other things,” she said. Protecting Ellsworth Air Force Base, for example, is important, she said.

This issue also affects food security in the aspect that it may keep other countries from controlling the ability to produce food in South Dakota, she said.

Some ag groups testified that they would rather leave this issue alone, to be handled on the federal level.

Senator Rounds (R-SD), Senator Tester (D-Mont.) and others have, in fact, introduced the PASS Act again this year (it was introduced last year but due to a lack of time, wasn’t discussed.

The PASS Act would black list China, Russia, Iran and North Korea from investing in, purchasing, or otherwise acquiring land or businesses involved in agriculture.

A national CIFIUS board already exists to review land purchases and, if they deem necessary, to stop them from going to completion.

“We recognize that none of these countries right now are our friends. They are hostile to the United States,” said Rounds in an exclusive interview.

Rounds said he is not concerned as much about a foreign country actually purchasing land, as an entity within the country. “It’s people within the countries. It’s not the government of Russia, or China. But when investigating them, we find that there is an affiliation. If you’re an individual or corporation and you’re trying to lease farm land, or a farm business, and you have any kind of tie with the People’s Republic of China or for that matter Russia, North Korea or Iran, we want to make sure that any seller recognizes up front that these people won’t be allowed to purchase the business or land.”

Rounds’ bill would make the US Agricultural Secretary a member of the national CIFIUS board.

Under the PASS Act, if a particular sale or lease was deemed to not pose a threat, the president could allow the deal to go through.

Both Tobin and Rounds referenced an attempt by a Chinese Company to buy land to build a corn milling unit within about 12 miles of a US Air Force Base.

The Chinese company did buy the land in 2021 but the Grand Forks, North Dakota,  City Council unanimously voted to not allow the company to build the plant.

All of this discussion comes a couple of weeks after the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean this past weekend. 

Rounds said the balloon ought to serve as a notice that America needs to be at attention.

“China is trying to gather as much information as possible on citizens in the United States, our military activity, our business activity, our patents, our copyrights. They wold loe to find out as much as they can on the biologics behind our advanced feed technologies, chemical technologies,” he said. The Chinese “don’t believe in patents,” he said and want to use American’s inventiveness to their advantage.

A North Dakota bill would prohibit foreign governments and state-controlled businesses from buying ag land, with an exception for research facilities.

According to News Nation, at least 11 states are considering some kind of measure to restrict foreign ownership of land.

Several states are looking at legislation to restrict foreign ownership of agricultural land. Maria Tibbetts | for Tri-State Livestock News