de Wolff: Stop the CCP’s Land Grab

Congress must prevent Communist Party-linked entities from owning American land.

by Thomas de Wolff | 1/19/23 4:00am

Something is rotten in the state of Missouri. In just the last decade, China has snapped up over 40,000 acres of Missouri farmland. The state is emerging as one of several key battlegrounds in which the United States must face down the growing threat of the Chinese Communist Party. States across the country such as California, Texas, Florida and Virginia have all seen rising Chinese land ownership in recent years. With increasing amounts of American land in the hands of the CCP, who are currently waging economic warfare, industrial espionage and an antagonistic foreign policy against us, it’s time to confront this unfortunate reality. 

Besides being a fundamental issue of control over our own food supply, there is another national security angle at work here. A number of Chinese purchases just so happen to be near military bases with classified, cutting-edge technology. As Congress enters into its new legislative session, there is one issue it must consider: how to stop the nefarious creep of the CCP into America’s heartland.

These acquisition efforts are relatively recent in origin. Enter the Smithfield Corporation, the largest pork producer in the world and an owner of over 40,000 acres of farmland in Missouri alone. In 2013, thanks to Smithfield lobbying both Republican and Democrat state legislators, Missouri’s state legislature opened up 1% of its farmland to foreign ownership. Just two weeks after the state’s ban on foreign ownership was lifted, Smithfield was bought by the WH Group, China’s largest pork producer. The WH Group is also owned by one of the richest men in China, Wan Long, a billionaire with ties to the upper echelons of the CCP. With the purchase of Smithfield, China was estimated to own 1 out of every 4 pigs in the United States.

Missouri is not the only victim of Chinese expansion, nor is this an issue limited to red states in the middle of the country. Between 2009 and 2019, 48 states saw a rise in foreign ownership of farm and forest land in the United States. Overseas owners bought 13 million acres of American land, increasing their share by 60% during this time. In August of 2022, both chambers of California’s state legislature unanimously passed a bill to prevent foreign entities from buying agricultural land in California. Despite this, the bill was ultimately vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom over a technicality. But when Republicans and Democrats unanimously agree on anything — in California of all places — this is a sure sign of the concerns surrounding China’s mounting influence held by Americans across the country.

High-profile politicians of all stripes see the writing on the wall. Just last week in Virginia, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin called for the state legislature to send him a bill prohibiting foreign entities tied to the CPP from purchasing farmland. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is poised to ask state lawmakers to ban China from buying farmland as well. In July of 2021, the then-Chair of the House Appropriations Agriculture-FDA Subcommittee, Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) said that Congress must make sure America does not “have our space invaded by potential adversaries, particularly in the economic realm.”  Finally, in July of 2022, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) introduced the Farmland Security Act, which would require the USDA to report on the impact of foreign investment in U.S. agriculture. The bill was signed into law as part of the latest omnibus spending package passed this December.

It would seem common sense for the USDA to report on foreign investment in agriculture. To a limited extent, it already does — and such data is available thanks to the Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act that was passed in 1978. However, its database, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, relies largely on volunteer reporting. This leads to significant gaps between what is listed in the database and the reality on the ground. But, errors and all, the database is still the only comprehensive source of the amount of American land sold to foreign ownership. Grassley and others have noted they will be keeping an eye on the USDA during this current legislative session to ensure that the goals of the Farmland Security Act are being met. Increasing oversight is a good start, but passing legislation — such as Senator Grassley’s planned bill that would prevent Chinese abuse of federal land subsidies — would be an even better step in the right direction.

Additionally, land purchases near key military infrastructure further compromise our national security. Last month, the Committee on Foreign Investment permitted a Chinese company whose chairman has been praised as a model laborer by the CCP to build a corn mill in Grand Forks, Nebraska. The plan had attracted so much scrutiny in the first place because the site is only 12 miles from an Air Force base home to some of the most sensitive military drone technology in the nation. Nor is this the first time that such a purchase has been made near sensitive infrastructure. The committee must be investigated, and perhaps even overhauled, to prevent a clear and obvious lapse in judgment like this from reoccurring.

Finally, Congress should pass legislation similar to what has already been enacted in Iowa, which bans any foreign entity from owning farmland in the state. However, since friendly nations such as Canada or the Netherlands have extensive American land holdings, Congress should only target hostile nations such as China by barring any person or entity linked to the Chinese Communist Party from owning American farmland. This is ambitious, but it is the common sense move that will protect America’s livelihoods, food supply and national security.  

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