Why Do We Let China Buy So Much American Farmland?

By Rep. Dan Newhouse (WA-04)

This piece was originally published in Newsweek.

The Chinese Communist Party has launched a multi-tiered campaign to acquire critical assets within the United States, collect new data on American citizens, and influence our institutions. Part of this campaign involves purchasing American farmland, often near sensitive military sites, thereby putting our supply chains, food security, and national security at risk. While this may sound like the beginning of a bad novel, I can assure you, the threat is very real.

In January, the Government Accountability Office published a report revealing that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) system of tracking foreign ownership of land is wildly inaccurate and flawed. According to the USDA's own estimates, foreign investments in U.S. agricultural land grew to approximately 40 million acres in 2021—about as much as the entire agricultural acreage in the state of Nebraska. This report shows not only that we are unable to answer the question of which foreign actors own land and where, but that the USDA has no internal plan to reverse this broken system.

As Congress finalizes its fiscal year 2024 spending bills, the issue of our foreign adversaries' influence has remained a hot topic in negotiations. Cyberattacks and foreign intelligence gathering that were once only issues under the purview of the Departments of State or Defense now seep into every aspect of our institutions and infrastructure. As a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, I, along with my committee colleagues, have fought to include critical provisions to bring these actors into the light and empower our agencies to fight back against this malicious influence.

The fiscal year 2024 Agriculture Appropriations bill emphasizes our commitment to protecting American farmland and food security. This year's bill includes provisions I wrote to address the broken tracking and reporting system, and works to open channels between federal agencies to better report suspicious land purchases.

This bill will also take a huge step in linking the USDA to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS): adding the secretary of agriculture to CFIUS to review agricultural land, biotechnology, and industry transactions of national security concern, especially purchases made by China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

As chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus and a third-generation farmer, I speak with farmers and landowners from across the country who express deep concern about this encroachment on our land almost every single day. Many farmers in my home state of Washington are worried about how this issue could evolve to adversely affect them and their operations, on top of the many challenges they already face. Resolving these reporting issues inside the USDA is the first step in identifying what our adversaries are doing, and protecting the interests of the millions of farmers that our nation, and the world, rely on.

The House will vote on the 2024 Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration bill this week. It will be a landmark vote in the expanding effort to combat these bad actors' influence. We cannot willingly allow our country to remain vulnerable to these threats, and this year's bill helps close a door to those who seek to do us harm.

Dan Newhouse, a Republican, represents Washington's Fourth District in the U.S. House of Representatives and serves as Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.

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