Ernst backs new oversight, possible divestment rather than ban on foreign ownership of agland

WASHINGTON — Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa says she and the Michigan Democrat who’s chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee are calling for creation of a public database of U.S. agland owned by foreigners and it would set the stage for forced divestment of real estate owned by foreign entities.

“It’s my hope that we can bring this issue out of the shadows in this year’s Farm Bill so we can have a clear picture of what foreign interests there are in our valuable farmland,” Ernst says. “This bipartisan effort will send a strong, clear message to our adversaries, like China, that American farms are not their playground.”

Ernst, discussed the proposal during a conference call with Iowa reporters this morning, said it also would strengthen federal oversight and rejection of foreign investment in the ag sector of the U.S. economy.

“It does give USDA and FDA a seat at the table when those decisions are made,” Ernst said, “which is something that we have not had in the past.”

According to the USDA, 37 million acres of U.S. farmland is under foreign ownership, with 384,000 of those acres owned by China. Iowa law forbids any foreign entity from owning more than 320 acres.

“We have done a good job as a state in prohibiting that foreign ownership to a large extent,” Ernst said, “but what we see across the United States is that many states do not have the same type of prohibitions in place.”

Other members of the House and Senate called for an outright ban on foreign ownership of U.S. farmland. Ernst said the bipartisan proposal she’s working on would give the USDA authority to review the national security implications of Chinese companies doing business on American soil and block suspect deals.

“I do think we have a great path forward,” Ernst said. “This is one area where Democrats and Republicans have really come together and that the issue of pushing back on China.”

China forbids foreigners from purchasing real estate in China.