By Clint Thompson
The concept of foreign-owned entities purchasing U.S. farmland continues to be a concerning topic for Alabama specialty crop producers.
“I’ve probably heard more on that topic here lately than any other. It’s definitely something that’s got people’s attention,” said Preston Roberts, director of agricultural legislation with Alabama Farmers Federation. “It seems like the more it’s being discussed, the more you’re hearing about it.”
Roberts discussed the topic during the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association annual conference and trade show on Thursday, Feb. 9, in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
“It’s a complicated issue. It seems simple on the face of it, but the more you peel back the layers, the more complicated it seems. You’re seeing a lot of states introduce legislation,” Roberts said. “I think the last time I saw there were 21 different states that had some kind of proposed legislation. It brings about some constitutional questions. What role does the states have to regulate foreign relations with other companies? There’s other things that it brings into play, too, that complicate that issue. It’s got a lot of people talking.”
U.S. Senators Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) introduced the Securing America’s Land from Foreign Interference Act in 2022 to prohibit members of the Chinese Communist Party from purchasing any land in the U.S.
“Really, I think that’s the most appropriate place for legislation to come from is the federal level. That’s the federal level’s role to regulate our relationship with foreign countries,” Roberts said. “I’ve seen a couple of things that increased the reporting for foreign owned entities when they purchased ag land that there’s a little bit stricter scrutiny on what they have to do when they report those properties.
“I’m interested to see what’s going to happen at the federal level. With the way Congress is going right now it seems like they’re having a hard time getting anything passed. Maybe they can come to some kind of agreement on this topic.”
While Chinese purchases of U.S. owned land tops farmers’ concerns, their current ownership ties are relatively small. China owns 160,717 acres in Texas, 49,253 acres in North Carolina, 13,848 acres in Florida and 1,972 acres in Georgia. But that pales in comparison to Canada which owns 3.8 million acres, more than doubling Italy, which is second with 1.6 million acres.