The push to drain China’s influence from the U.S. economy has reached America’s farm country, as congressional lawmakers from both parties consider measures to crack down on foreign purchases of prime agricultural real estate.
House lawmakers recently advanced legislation to that effect, warning that China’s presence in the American food system poses a national security risk. And key Senate lawmakers have already shown interest in efforts to keep American farms in American hands.
The debate over farm ownership comes amid broader efforts by Congress and the White House to curb the nation’s economic reliance on China, especially in industries like food and minerals deemed crucial to the supply chain. The call for tighter limits on who owns America’s farms has come from a range of political leaders, including former Vice President Mike Pence, after gaining momentum seeded in farm states.
“America cannot allow China to control our food supply,” Pence said last week during a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, urging President Joe Biden and Congress to “end all farm subsidies for land owned by foreign nationals.”
Chinese firms have expanded their presence in American agriculture over the last decade by snapping up farmland and purchasing major agribusinesses, like pork processing giant Smithfield Foods. By the start of 2020, Chinese owners controlled about 192,000 agricultural acres in the U.S., worth $1.9 billion, including land used for farming, ranching and forestry, according to the USDA.
Still, that’s less than farmland owned by people from other nations like Canada and European countries, which account for millions of acres each. It’s also a small percentage of the nearly 900 million acres of total American farmland. It is the trend of increasing purchases and the buyers’ potential connections to the Chinese government that have alarmed lawmakers.