(The Center Square) – The amount of Arkansas agriculture land owned by foreign investors slightly decreased in 2022, with 5.1% still owned by non-U.S. entities, according to a United States Department of Agriculture report.
The report shows 1,381,200 acres were owned by foreigners in 2021, dropping to 1,379,013 in 2022, a difference of 2,187, the U.S. Agricultural Landholdings of Foreign Investors report said.
Most of the land is forest land. Cropland is the second highest use for agricultural land by outside entities, with 330,833 acres, according to the report.
Lawmakers passed a bill now known as Act 263 that prevents foreign ownership of agricultural land in the Natural State. Northrup King Seed Co., a subsidiary of Syngenta Seeds, LLC, owned by China National Chemical Company, or ChemChina, was fined $280,000 for failing to disclose its ownership of 160 acres in Craighead County. The company paid the fine and has two years to divest the land, according to Attorney General Tim Griffin.
The attorney general defended the law, saying China has a history of taking over non-military interests.
“For those of you who think this is some sort of outlier, you’re wrong. I’ve been in the military for almost 30 years, and I can tell you one of the most consistent themes over the last decade at least has been warnings about the Communist Chinese, what they will do and what they are doing. So this is smart and this is strategic,” Griffin said.
Several other states have enacted similar laws. But there could be a downside for states, according to Micah Brown, a staff attorney for the National Agricultural Law Center, a unit of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Brown said he is asked about the consequences when he testifies before legislatures. For example, a foreign-owned company operating grain elevators could just shut down if the law is violated.
“They can breach the contract they have with farmers to bring their grain to that elevator,” Brown told The Center Square. “Some farmers might be in trouble.”
Congress is also looking for ways to oversee what foreign entities own U.S. farmland.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican farmer from Iowa, introduced bills calling for more scrutiny of foreign-owned farmland. The Farmland Security Act of 2022 enacted stricter reporting requirements for foreign-owned land. He and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., proposed more legislation in July 2023 that would penalize foreign companies that did not report or misreported the acreage they own. The bill also asks for more research into how much land is owned by non-U.S.-based entities.