State and federal lawmakers are pushing to regulate foreign ownership of U.S. real estate because of fears that Chinese entities are creating a national security risk by amassing swaths of U.S. farmland, some of it near sensitive sites.
A review by NBC News of thousands of documents filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, shows very few purchases by Chinese buyers in the past year and a half — fewer than 1,400 acres in a country with 1.3 billion acres of agricultural land. In fact, the total amount of U.S. agricultural land owned by Chinese interests is less than three-hundredths of 1%.
But the review also reveals a federal oversight system in which reporting of foreign ownership is lax and enforcement minimal.
Any foreign individual or entity that buys or leases U.S. agricultural land is required by federal law to report the transaction to the USDA within 90 days, yet some were not reported for years — in one case, more than 20 years. And in that same time period, no one has been fined more than $121,000 for failure to make such a report.
NBC News was able to review filings on foreign purchases and leases of agricultural land, meaning both farm and forestry land, from 35 states since Jan. 1, 2022. The vast majority of the transactions were European wind power companies leasing land from U.S. farmers to build wind turbines. One Italian wind company disclosed 40 new leases of farmland in just one rural Illinois county. The same company had leases in at least four other states.
In those 35 states, NBC News found 11 purchases by Chinese entities that had been reported to the USDA from Jan. 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023.
Source: NBC News