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Home » International, Opinions, Policy

Foreign Investment in U.S. Farmland on the Rise

Submitted by on July 7, 2017 – 6:46 pmNo Comment

By Johnathan Hettinger and Robert Holly with additional reporting by Jelter Meers (Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)  In 2013, the Chinese firm Shuanghui received wide public attention when it purchased U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods for a record $4.7 billion.

In an overlooked part of the deal, Shuanghui also acquired more than 146,000 acres of farmland across the United States, worth more than $500 million, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

The deal made Shuanghui, now the WH Group Limited, into one of the biggest foreign owners of U.S. agricultural land, according to an analysis of that same data.

That purchase was just a part of a continuing surge in foreign investment in American farmland and food that has raised concerns in Congress and among rural advocacy groups.

“The more control foreign interests have in our food system, the less control we have, obviously,” said Tim Gibbons, a director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, an advocacy organization based in Columbia. “I think it’s a national security concern.”

Indeed, over the past decade, foreign companies have been investing in agricultural land in the United States at a record pace, according to a Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting analysis of USDA data. The data was compiled from 1900 to 2014 under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA).

Congressional concerns about foreign investment in the food industry prompted Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D – Michigan)and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R – Iowa) to introduce a bill this year to give food and agriculture officials a permanent role on the federal committee in charge of reviewing foreign investment in the United States, something the agriculture industry has lacked.

The stated goal of the Food Security is National Security Act of 2017 — supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union — is to protect U.S. food security in years to come by ensuring America’s crops, livestock and agribusinesses remain under domestic control.

In the 1970s, governors from a dozen states identified foreign investment in farmland as a potential problem in a Government Accountability Office report.

In that report, the states that viewed foreign investment as a possible threat told the accountability office that foreign investment could drive up the price of farmland beyond the reach of local residents and allow foreign interests to control domestic food prices.

Louisa Burwood-Taylor is head of media for the online investment platform AgFunder, which connects agribusiness startups to accredited investors. She said it can be “very hard to make broad-brush statements” on whether foreign ownership is positive or negative.

“It completely depends on who the buyer is and what kind of industry they’re coming from and what their angle is, what their motivation is,” Burwood-Taylor said. “And that’s going to be the same for if they’re a local investor or a foreign investor.”

Burwood-Taylor said the spike in investment during the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2007 was likely tied to an overall move away from stocks, which were perceived as riskier by investors.  READ MORE


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