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Experts weigh in Chinese ownership of Ag land



KATHERINE ZEHNDER

Carolina Journal


Last week, NC Chamber hosted “Imagine Ag Day” where experts addressed issues facing the agricultural industry, including foreign holdings of US agricultural land. 


Over 700,000 acres of North Carolina farmland are foreign-owned, as foreign holdings of farmland increased by more than 8% across the nation in 2022.


“This is one of the most complicated issues,” said Randy Russell, agriculture lobbyist and president of The Russell Group, while referencing a five-hour, bipartisan committee meeting held by the House Committee on Agriculture


“It was all about China,” said Russell.


China is by far the largest export customer of US agriculture products, totaling $40 billion. Canada, and then Mexico are the next largest export customers. Russell also explained that most of our animal and human nutrition vitamins come from China. 


“You know, back on the ownership of farmland, the Chinese own about 350,000 acres of farmland,” said Russell. 


Further explaining his position on why China should not be allowed to own US farmland., Russell said one of his primary reasons is the issue of reciprocity. China would never allow an American to own Chinese land, yet we are allowing China to own American land — some near sensitive American infrastructure like military installations. 


“More importantly, is where that farmland is located,” said Russel before referencing an incident when the Fufeng Group purchased land near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. According to a letter from the Department of the Air Force, the proposal is to build a corn milling processing plant approximately twelve miles from the base. 


“Grand Forks Air Force Base is the center of military activities related to both air and space operations,” wrote Andrew P. Hunter from the Department of the Air Force in a January 2023 letter of warning to Sen. John Hoven, R-ND.


“…the Department’s view is unambiguous: the proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near-and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area,” wrote Hunter. 


However, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) concluded that it did not have jurisdiction.A similar letter was also sent to Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND). 

“Do you think the Chinese would ever allow an American to own farmland, period, much less near one of their military installations? [T]his is a very complicated issue,” said Russell. 

“We all in the room know and are very proud that agriculture is the No.1 industry, but the military installations right here in North Carolina is the No.2, and we take our military very seriously,” said Linda Andrews, national legislative director of the North Carolina Farm Bureau. “I think that is a big understory of how that would impact our folks here at home and how they would be impacted.”


In referencing the Hose Ag Committee meeting on the issue, Andrews noted “[…] that was a very, very balanced panel. Good questions across the nation and true concern on how that would impact our industry.”


According to CBS News North Carolina is one of five states the federal agriculture department has identified as having worrisome rates of Chinese land ownership. Further, out of these five states, four do not currently limit foreign ownership. 


Though there is no law currently on the books, state lawmakers are keen to address the threat posed by such adversarial ownership in the Tar Heel State. Last year, the NC House passed HB463, the NC Farmland and Military Protection Act, which would “prohibit the acquisition of agricultural and other lands deemed critical to the safety and security of the state by certain foreign governments designated as adversarial by the United States Department of Commerce.”


The legislation passed the NC House unanimously last April, only to be buried by leaders in the NC Senate, where the bill was referred to the Senate Rules Committee, from which the legislation never reemerged. The bill is eligible for consideration in the 2024 short session commencing later this month, however.

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