China’s Grip on US Farmland Poses a Threat to Your Dinner Table

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Jun 28, 2024

During a recent House Committee on Agriculture hearing, Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed deep concern over China’s influence on US farmland.

While it might seem like China cannot threaten US farmland from the other side of the world, lawmakers worry that this potential threat could affect every American’s dinner table.

The Threat to US Farmland

During the meeting, Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania) highlighted the ongoing and multifaceted threats that American farmland faces from China’s purchase of U.S. agricultural land.

A photograph showcasing a large bean farm

Source: Freepik

These threats include intellectual property theft, cybersecurity breaches, and the strategic acquisition of American farmland.

States Push Back

States like Arkansas and Texas have already taken measures to halt foreign land ownership as concern grows about national security and the shaky state of the economies in rural communities.

The Texas flag. The flag has a blue vertical stripe on the left with a white star in the middle. Next to it are two vertical white and red stripes.

Source: Pete Alexopoulos/Unsplash

These states and many lawmakers fear that these purchases of farmland could allow China to establish locations close to military operations and critical infrastructure.

How Did This Happen? 

In a recent news report, flaws in identifying foreign ownership of US farmland were discovered by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), (via Thrift My Life).

A close-up of some crops in a field.

Source: Tomasz Sienicki/Wikimedia Commons

The GAO’s investigation into this flaw showed the government’s failure to properly track the ownership of American farmland, a responsibility that falls onto the shoulders of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), allowing foreign entities to invest in land.

What Is the AFIDA? 

The Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) of 1978 requires that a foreign person who acquires, disposes of, or holds an interest in US agricultural land must disclose these transactions and holdings to the Secretary of Agriculture.


Source: Pixabay/Pexels

If a foreign person wants to own land in the US, they must disclose the transactions and holdings to the Secretary of Agriculture. The recent uptick in Chinese-owned farmland in the US shows that these practices are being ignored.

The Flawed Process

The GAO criticized the USDA’s flawed processes for collecting, tracking, and reporting key information related to foreign investments.

Brown Farm Gate and Green Grass Field

Source: Chanita Sykes/Pexels

“USDA implements AFIDA across field offices and headquarters, but its processes to collect, track, and report key information are flawed,” the report said.


China’s Ownership of Land

Over the past decades, Chinese-owned land in the US has increased, with significant acquisitions like the 2013 purchase of Smithfield Foods by the China-based WH Group.

A map of the world zoomed in on China with a blue push-pin

Source: Freeimageslive

Despite China owning less than 1% of foreign-owned US farmland, the rapid growth of its holdings has sparked concern, especially as tensions between the US and China grow with the recent announcement of the megaport in South America.


Setting New Rules

To help limit the purchasing power of farmland by foreign persons, Congress has mandated the USDA to establish an online AFIDA database by 2025. However, the department has made no strides to fulfill this directive.

Aerial Shot of Green Milling Tractor

Source: Tom Fisk/Pexels

“Sharing current data could help increase visibility into potential national security risks related to foreign investments in U.S. agricultural land,” the report said.


The Failures of the USDA

During the congressional meeting, the USDA was unable to answer basic questions about land ownership, showcasing the cracks in the foundation of the department.

A rescued cow walks around a field in a sanctuary

Source: Freepik

The worst part: the USDA seemed to show no plan to address the ongoing issues, which congressional members stress will allow “this dangerous flaw that affects our supply chain and economy” to persist.


The Threat to Your Dinner Table

This failure of the USDA to track the purchase of farmland in the US poses a threat to food security and national security. It shows a clear lack of understanding of who owns over 40 million acres of farmland.

A group of men and women sat around a table eating food. There is food and wine on the table.

Alex Haney/Unsplash

“We cannot allow foreign adversaries to influence our food supply while we stick our heads in the sand,” Congressman Dan Newhouse said.


Effecting the Future Food Supply 

China is the largest export market for US food and agricultural products. Any disruption in trade relations could have a devastating effect on American growers.

An image of a man dressed in a green shirt eating food

Source: Freepik

Soybean Association President Josh Gackle emphasized the irreplaceable demand for soybeans in China. This highlights the delicate trade-off between security measures and maintaining export markets.


The Future of Farmland in America

Currently, the US is working on ways to diversify export markets and reduce its dependency on China for food, goods, and services. However, this process is slow and unlikely to fully offset potential losses.

Chickens of Dimen Village

Source: Marie Anna Lee

The urgency of addressing this issue is clear to US lawmakers, but the complexities of navigating the agricultural sector, coupled with what seems to be an unbending USDA, could make progress difficult.