A Chinese firm made big news in 2013 by spending $4.7 billion to acquire U.S. processor Smithfield Foods. In that same deal, the company also acquired over 146,000 acres of U.S. farmland worth more $500 million.
The group, now known as WH Group Limited, became one of the largest foreign owners of U.S. land. That purchase is part of a surge of foreign investment in American farmland and it’s raising concerns in Congress and among rural advocacy groups.
Tim Gibbons, a director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, calls the situation a national security concern. “I think the more control foreign interests have in our food system, the less we have, obviously,” says Gibbons, “and when foreign entities buy farmland, my assumption is we’re never going to get it back. They’re going to hold on to it.”
The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting says foreign companies have been investing in American farmland at a record rate for the past decade, with foreign-owned land reaching an area the size of Tennessee by 2014.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow authored a bill this year to give food and agriculture officials a permanent role on the federal committee in charge of reviewing foreign investment in the U.S., something the agriculture industry has never had.