Gauging how much agricultural and forested lands in the U.S. are owned by foreign entities can be difficult to calculate, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture believes those lands are roughly the size of Iowa.
Nearly half of the nation’s forested lands are foreign owned, which can have broad implications in multiple realms from policy to carbon markets, said Arkansas native Harrison Pittman, director of the 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 bar foreign ownership of agricultural land.
“According to the latest USDA data, 49% of foreign-owned U.S. land is forested,” Pittman said. “This absolutely has implications in the carbon market space. When the largest percentage of foreign owned land is in the forestry sector, that’s a huge part of the carbon sequestration model and relevant to federal legislation, federal programs, and all manner of things.”
Foreign ownership of U.S. lands has been an issue dating back to before the origins of the United States. English common law significantly limited the ability of “aliens” to hold or acquire real property. The Declaration of Independence addressed these concerns and influenced states’ laws addressing foreign ownership of land. This concern eventually focused on agricultural lands, and today, a patchwork of state laws is in place throughout the U.S. that are often quite different from one state to the other.
As of 2021, foreign individuals or entities reported holding an interest in about 35.2 million acres of U.S. farmland, accounting for 2.7% of all privately held agricultural land and 1.5% of all land in the U.S. Foreign-owned land in the U.S. more than doubled from 2004 to 2019 and the USDA reports that between 2018 and 2019, at least 40% of foreign ownership increases have occurred in Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado, according to the USDA.
There are 4.4 million acres in Texas that are foreign owned, 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 top foreign based land owners in the U.S.
Pittman said addressing foreign ownership of agricultural land requires dialogue because the issue pulls every political interest in and around agriculture and numerous areas of law.
Past National Agricultural Law Center monthly webinar topics have included carbon markets, meat processing laws, water pollution, the impact of elections on agriculture, and several other topics.
“I highly encourage anyone with an interest in agricultural, food, and environmental law to register and attend webinars hosted by our center,” Pittman said. “Regardless of your occupation, these programs offer vast information that you can trust to be neutral, research-based, and non-partisan.”
Watch Pittman’s webinar on foreign ownership of land, click here.