By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Republican U.S. Congressional candidate Harriet Hageman is circulating a petition to ban entities tied to Communist China from buying American farmland. The petition encourages signees to “Keep China OUT!”
“Chinese corporations are buying up American farmland at an alarming rate,” Hageman’s petition headline reads. “This is a threat to Wyoming, to America, and on our way of life.”
Although the petition mentions that Chinese corporations are buying up U.S. farmland, it is not clear which specific groups would be prevented from purchasing American agricultural land in the future if a theoretical ban went into effect.
Representatives from Hageman’s campaign did not immediately respond to questions about what groups the ban would apply to.
In 2021, Fufeng USA, an American-based conglomerate of a Chinese company, purchased farmland 12 miles to the east of the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, which is a top-secret drone center. Fufeng purchased the 370 acres for $2.6 million.
Here, they are building a $700 million corn milling plant the company says will employ 220 people and up to 1,000 construction jobs.
“Maybe it’s just a corn mill,” Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, told Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the chief of staff of the Air Force, in May during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “But it would also provide the potential at least for Chinese intelligence to engage in intelligence collection of various kinds.”
Residents of Grand Forks are fighting against the project, collecting more than 4,700 signatures to bring the deal to a vote as well as suing the city.
A recent Pew poll found that 76 percent of Americans surveyed had an unfavorable view of China, and that 90 percent believed China did not respect the personal freedoms of its people. Some have speculated that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused anti-Chinese sentiment to grow among Americans.
According to Fox News, the Fufeng land where sugar beets and soybeans were previously grown, was owned by three local farmers. The property was not for sale when officials said Fufeng offered to buy the land, dishing out more than $26,000, an acre- well more than the average asking price for land in that area.
Dennis Sun, a fourth generation Wyoming rancher and publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, said he understood why sellers are OK with selling to foreign countries as they can pay “top dollar” but said the issue was more complex than that.
“It is just like the Bureau of Land Management acquiring ranches in the West. At some point, we have to stop this nonsense. It’s a food security issue,” he said in a column for Cowboy State Daily.
Sun said as farmland becomes more expensive, there may be more selling. As of June, the overall national farmland values jumped around 12.4% for 2022, the biggest increase in farmland values since 2007.
In the first half of 2022, Wyoming was the second most economical state for cropland at $1,720 an acre, up 7.5% from last year.
In June, Republican members of Congress introduced legislation to curb China’s investment in U.S. agriculture. Reps. Rick Crawford of Arkansas and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York are spearheading the Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security Act, which would ban China, Russia, Iran and North Korea from buying U.S. agricultural companies.
The bill would also designate agriculture and biotechnology used in agriculture as “critical infrastructure” and place the U.S. agriculture secretary as a standing member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.
“Adversarial nations, like China, continue to threaten our homeland, using tactics like buying American agriculture companies and stealing agriculture research to undermine our economy,” Crawford said in a “Progressive Farmer” online story. “Washington must realize that agriculture security is national security, and we have a duty to protect our food supply and those who produce it.”
In May, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission issued a report analyzing China’s interest in U.S. agriculture, citing the communist-led country’s lack of arable land, environmental pollution, and reliance on imports.
Mentioned in the report is Chinese acquisition of U.S. hog herds, investment in U.S. agricultural assets, access to U.S. agricultural technology, and “illicit acquisitions” of U.S. seed technology. Those seed technology “thefts” also offer China “an opportunity to discover vulnerabilities in U.S. crops.”
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Chinese owners control at least $2 billion worth of agricultural land across the country. Americans buy more goods from China than any other country and China is a top destination for U.S. exports.
Foreign investment in U.S. farmland has tripled in the past decade, according to the USDA, up to 10.9 million acres from 4.1 million acres in 2010. Overall, foreign investors own or lease 37.6 million acres of agricultural land in America, making up 2.9% of all privately held agricultural land in the U.S.
Hageman recently defeated U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in the primary election. She will face Democrat Lynette Grey Bull in the general election.