September 19, 2023

Foreign-owned forest and farmland in the United States presents a host of political issues

Estimating how much farm and forest land in the United States is owned by foreign entities can be difficult to calculate, but the United States Department of Agriculture estimates the land to be about the size of Iowa.

Almost half of the country’s woodlands are owned by outsiders, which can have far-reaching implications in many areas from policy to carbon markets, said Harrison Pittman, an Arkansas native, director of the National Agricultural Law Center. .

Harrison provided an update on the topic as part of the centre’s ongoing webinar series on agricultural, environmental and food laws.

Fourteen states have laws that limit or prohibit foreign ownership of farmland.

“According to the latest USDA data, 49% of US land owned by foreigners is forested,” Pittman said. “This absolutely has implications in the carbon market space. When the greatest percentage of foreign-owned land is in the forestry sector, that’s an important part of the carbon sequestration model and relevant to federal legislation, federal programs and all kinds of things.

Foreign ownership of American land is an issue that dates back to before the origins of the United States. English common law has severely limited the ability of “foreigners” to own or acquire real property. The Declaration of Independence responded to these concerns and influenced state laws regarding foreign ownership of land. That concern ultimately focused on farmland, and today a patchwork of state laws are in place across the United States, which are often very different from state to state.

In 2021, foreign persons or entities reported having an interest in approximately 35.2 million acres of US farmland, representing 2.7% of all private farmland and 1.5% of all land in the United States. United Land held by foreigners in the United States has more than doubled. from 2004 to 2019 and the USDA reports that between 2018 and 2019, at least 40% of increases in foreign ownership occurred in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, according to the USDA.

There are 4.4 million acres in Texas owned by foreigners, followed by Maine (3.3 million acres) and Alabama (1.8 million), the USDA reported. The entities or individuals from Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom are the primary foreign landowners in the United States.

Pittman said the issue of foreign ownership of farmland requires dialogue because the issue attracts all political interests in and around agriculture and many areas of law.

Previous topics for the National Agricultural Law Center’s monthly webinars included carbon markets, meat processing laws, water pollution, the impact of elections on agriculture, and several other topics.

“I strongly encourage anyone interested in agricultural, food and environmental law to register and attend webinars hosted by our center,” said Pittman. “No matter what your profession, these programs offer a wealth of information that you can trust to be neutral, research-based, and non-partisan. “

Watch Pittman’s webinar on foreign land ownership, Click here.