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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 7/23/21

China is Buying American Farmland

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Tractor on the fields with Sunflower on a sunny day
Tractor on the fields with Sunflower on a sunny day
(Image by wuestenigel)
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An American farmer wakes up at 5 a.m. and eats breakfast. Afterwards, he walks out to a large building behind the house, sits on a tractor, and starts the engine. As he is waiting for the engine to warm up, he ponders about the long 12-hour work day ahead.

The engine is warm now, and he drives the tractor from the building to a field to till the soil. The wheels of the tractor and the blades of the plow tilling the soil create clouds of dust, which cover the tractor and his clothing.

After two hours of tilling, he stops and shuts off the engine to check the engine air filter. The dirt in the air filter, on the tractor, his clothing, his hair, and the ground he is standing on -- are owned by China.

The push to drain China's influence from the U.S. economy has reached America's farm country, as congressional lawmakers from both parties are looking at measures to crack down on foreign purchases of prime agricultural real estate.

House lawmakers recently advanced legislation to that effect, warning that China's presence in the American food system poses a national security risk. And key Senate lawmakers have already shown interest in efforts to keep American farms in American hands.

Chinese firms have expanded their presence in American agriculture over the last decade by snapping up farmland and purchasing major agribusinesses, like pork processing giant Smithfield Foods.

But it's the trend of increasing purchases and the buyers' potential connections to the Chinese government that have lawmakers spooked.

USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] reported in 2018 that China's agricultural investments in other nations had grown more than tenfold since 2009. The Communist Party has actively supported investments in foreign agriculture as part of its "One Belt One Road" economic development plans, aiming to control a greater piece of China's food supply chain.

The "One Belt One Road" Initiative, developed by the Chinese government in 2013, is a global infrastructure plan aimed to distribute $1 trillion in construction and investment funds to over a hundred countries. The funds would mainly be used to help facilitate in the construction of rails and roads connecting China with Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans.

But it goes beyond just the ownership of farmland in the United States. China would also have control of the price of food and the distribution of food to large nationwide supermarkets. Think Walmart -- the largest retail chain in the United States -- or Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon).

An older generation of farmers are retiring, and despite the farm being in the family for generations, the younger 30-something-year-old children have no interest in farming. So, farm owners are listing their property for sale on the open real-estate market and foreign corporations or foreign governments with deep pockets are making offers -- outbidding local farmers who want to purchase the land to increase the size of their farm, or new farmers who want to purchase land to start a farm.

The North Gwinnett Voice [Gwinnett County, Georgia] asked local residents, "Would you be concerned if foreign companies or governments controlled America's farmland thus our food supply?" in a recent poll on Facebook. The findings of the poll show that 92.3 percent of those who answered the poll said they would be concerned about foreign control of American farmland, while only 7.7 percent were not concerned.

While Canada currently holds the most farmland by a foreign government, China is aggressively buying up American farmland. China's 2013 purchase of the world's largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, raised red flags with many. WH Group, a Chinese corporation, purchased Smithfield Foods for nearly $5 billion, the largest Chinese acquisition of an American company to date. [February 2021].

The acquisition of Smithfield Foods put 146,000 acres of American farmland into Chinese hands, making China one of the largest overseas owners of farmland in the United States.

Another concern for Congress is foreign governments receiving taxpayer subsidies on farmland they own, which was meant to help U.S. farmers against trade retaliation from China. Smithfield Foods -- now owned by the Chinese government -- was to receive taxpayer subsidies, but the company declined the money after objections from congressional lawmakers from both parties.

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Jack Lindauer has written for the Los Angeles Daily Journal newspaper. He is a Los Angeles based filmmaker. He writes on foreign policy issues. He studied Political Science at Harvard University, with a concentration in U.S. Public Policy.

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