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House committee votes to ban sale of U.S. farmland to Russia and China

Companies from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran would be barred from purchasing U.S. agricultural land under language approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday. “More needs to be done to ensure the U.S. food supply chain is secure and independent,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, lamenting that there are no federal safeguards against land purchases by authoritarian regimes.

By voice vote, members of the House Appropriations Committee added Newhouse’s provision to the annual USDA-FDA funding bill. The committee later cleared the $195.6 billion bill for floor debate on a party-line, 31-26 vote, with Republicans, including Newhouse, dissenting. Fiscal 2023 funding would be nearly $39 billion below this year’s funding, because of the expiration of pandemic relief programs.

It was the second year in a row that appropriators agreed with Newhouse’s warnings about foreign investment in U.S. farmland, Last year, the Appropriations Committee voted to ban China from acquiring additional U.S. farmland. The proposal was eventually revised to a request for a USDA report on the matter.

“We’ve agreed to include additional adversaries to the base amendment this year given the horrific events in Ukraine at the hands of Russia and the Putin regime,” said Newhouse during the three-hour committee markup of the USDA-FDA bill. “As many members of this committee know, China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran are not our allies.”

Foreign investors owned 37.6 million acres, or 2.9%, of U.S. agricultural land — forest and farmland — at the end of 2020, according to a USDA report. Holdings have increased by an average of nearly 2.2 million acres a year since 2015. Forests accounted for 46% of agricultural land held by foreigners. Some 29% was cropland, and pastures and other ag land accounted for 23%.

China was the most active of the investors, said Newhouse, a Republican from Washington State. Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, also a Republican, said, “We’ve seen a surge in Chinese ownership,” with Alabama farmers being pushed aside when land was offered for sale.

To watch a video of the committee meeting, click here.

To read the report that accompanied the USDA-FDA bill, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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