September 19, 2023

U.S. forest and farmland owned by foreign entities presents a myriad of political issues

It can be difficult to calculate how much agricultural and forestry land in the United States is owned by foreign entities, but the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that land to be roughly the size of Iowa.

Nearly half of the country’s forest land is owned by foreigners, which can have broad implications in multiple areas, from politics to carbon markets, said Harrison Pittman, a native of Arkansas, director of National Agricultural Law. Center.

Harrison offered an update on the topic as part of the center’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 foreign-owned land is forested,” Pittman said. “It absolutely has implications in the carbon market space. When the largest percentage of foreign-owned land is in the forest sector, that’s an important part of the carbon sequestration model and is relevant for legislation. federal, 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 severely limited the ability of “strangers” to hold or acquire real estate. The Declaration of Independence addressed these concerns and influenced state laws regarding foreign ownership of land. This concern eventually focused on farmland, and today a patchwork of state laws are in place across the United States that are often vastly different from state to state.

In 2021, foreign persons or entities reported having an interest in approximately 35.2 million acres of U.S. farmland, representing 2.7% of all private farmland and 1.5% of all land in the United States. United States. Foreign-owned land 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. 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 draws all political interests in and around agriculture and many areas of law.

Topics from previous National Agricultural Law Center monthly webinars have included carbon markets, meat processing laws, water pollution, the impact of elections on agriculture, and several other topics.

“I strongly encourage anyone interested in agriculture, food and environmental law to register and attend the webinars hosted by our center,” Pittman said. “Whatever your profession, these programs offer vast information that you can trust to be neutral, research-based and non-partisan.”

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