North Carolina could become the latest state to file or pass legislation prohibiting foreign entities from purchasing farmland.
State House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, filed H.B. 463, N.C. Farmland and Military Protection Act, to prohibit China, Russia, Iran, and other foreign adversaries and state-controlled entities from purchasing agricultural land, including property surrounding military bases.
“Allowing foreign adversaries to purchase farmland is a legitimate concern in rural North Carolina and poses a serious risk to our national and food security,” said Bell in a press release. “By putting a halt to these land grabs, this bill will protect our state’s most precious natural resources while further safeguarding our military installations. It is critical that we act now to mitigate this unnecessary threat to our state and nation.”
The bill includes any land deemed agricultural or land situated within a 25-mile radius of a military base, military installation, or military airport.
Of the five states where the USDA says entities with ties to China own the most farmland, four don’t limit foreign ownership, including North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, and Utah.
The USDA also says China’s American agricultural land holdings have increased more than tenfold in the last decade, with China investing as much as $2 billion in American agricultural land ownership at the beginning of 2020.
Fourteen states, including South Carolina, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, currently have laws restricting foreign private investment in agricultural land. Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is expected to sign S.B. 1438 in the coming days, which would also restrict foreign ownership.
But momentum is growing among other states and the federal government after incidents, like a Chinese spy balloon floating over the U.S. last month, raised concerns that alleged espionage activity was taking place near military sites, including Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, which is home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields.
The legislatures in Montana, Texas, Florida, and Illinois are already considering similar legislation.
On Wednesday, a group of senators led by Sen. Mike Braun, R-IN, introduced the “Protecting America’s Agricultural Land from Foreign Harm Act of 2023” that would prevent people associated with the governments of America’s foreign adversaries from buying U.S. agricultural land. The bill refers specifically to China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
The bill would specifically prohibit anyone “owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary” from leasing or purchasing both public and private agricultural land on U.S. soil.
The bill would also prevent people associated with those governments who currently own or lease farmland in the U.S. from participating in USDA programs.
N.C. Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is supportive of H.B. 463. In an emailed statement to Carolina Journal, he said the state is losing farmland every day in a variety of ways, from development, purchase by foreign entities, and solar installations. All of this is estimated to take over a million acres of farm and forestland out of commission by 2040, based on a recent report by the American Farmland Trust. Troxler said there needs to be focused efforts to slow the loss of farm and forestland as this loss takes valuable land out of food production forever.
“I support this measure along with increased recurring funding for farmland preservation that I have asked for from the legislature,” he said. “Ensuring we have the natural resources necessary to feed ourselves and our country is a matter of national security, and I strongly believe we need to invest now in securing farm and forestlands in North Carolina for the future. I thank Rep. Bell for introducing this bill.”
“Food security is national security, and the bipartisan N.C. Farmland and Military Protection Act helps keep North Carolina’s significant agricultural output secure by preventing countries like China and Russia from acquiring our state’s farmland,” said N.C. Farm Bureau President Shawn Harding in an emailed statement to CJ. “North Carolina Farm Bureau supports this legislation and is grateful to the House leaders who recognize the importance of this issue.”
Bell’s introduced legislation, which also has the support of the N.C. Farm Bureau, would become effective on Jan. 1, 2024, and applies only to land acquired on and after that date.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.