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Chairwoman Stabenow Statement at Hearing Foreign Ownership in U.S. Agriculture

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following statement at a hearing on foreign ownership in U.S. Agriculture. Live video of the hearing is available here.

Stabenow’s Statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

I call this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order.  

Agriculture is crucial to our American way of life. I always say that we don’t have an economy unless someone makes something and someone grows something.  

Our food industry and agriculture support more than 21 million jobs, contributing roughly $1.2 trillion to the American economy and providing a safe and affordable food supply.  

Also, food security is national security. 

That’s the message I shared in 2013, when I held a hearing in this Committee to review the purchase of Smithfield Foods by a Chinese company. It was the largest purchase of a U.S. company and the first purchase of a major U.S. food and agriculture company by a Chinese firm. 

After that hearing, I worked with Senator Grassley to introduce the Food Security is National Security Act to help ensure that acquisitions of U.S. food and agriculture companies receive proper scrutiny.  

It gives USDA and FDA officials permanent representation on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and adds new criteria to consider impacts to U.S. food systems. 

Since then, other major U.S. food and agriculture companies have been bought by foreign companies.  

American farmers and families have raised many questions, from the economic impacts of foreign purchases in our food supply chain to how we can protect agriculture innovation and research spurred by U.S. investment, and more. The American people deserve careful consideration of how foreign investment will affect the future of our farms, ranches, and agriculture economy.  

Today, we are having a conversation about foreign investment in U.S. agricultural land. This discussion is not new.  

Then-Congressman Grassley helped author the Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978 in an attempt to understand the full picture of foreign ownership of U.S. farmland. That was nearly five decades ago. 

Thanks to the database established under that law, we know that foreign investors today hold an interest in nearly 40 million acres of American farm and forest land – which represents just over 3 percent of all privately held agricultural land in the U.S.  

While this is a small fraction of overall agricultural land, foreign ownership has increased 66 percent since 2010 – nearly 2 million acres per year. The largest foreign stakeholders in American farmland remain countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and those in Europe – while Chinese ownership is less than one percent of all foreign-held farmland up to this point.    

We have heard some real concerns that foreign ownership may be undercounted, and that the American government lacks the proper oversight tools to see the whole picture. It’s also important to consider what impacts foreign investment can have on U.S. farmers and consumers. 

I was pleased to partner with Senator Ernst to introduce a bipartisan bill earlier this year, the “FARMLAND Act,” which is aimed at improving the reporting process and providing new resources for USDA – and a number of other members have introduced bills on this topic as well.  

In July the Senate adopted an amendment on this issue, authored by Senators Tester and Rounds, to the National Defense Authorization Act. I’m glad that the idea of adding USDA to CFIUS that Senator Grassley and I proposed was included in this amendment.   

The leadership of Senators Tester and Rounds on these issues has been critical, and I’m glad we will hear from them, as well as Senators Baldwin and Lankford, today. 

Our national security depends on a food system that is safe, secure, affordable, abundant, and resilient. As foreign entities continue their acquisitions of U.S. food and agriculture assets, American farmers and families deserve to know that these transactions receive proper scrutiny.  

We must also be cautious of our history of barring immigrants from owning land in our country and ensure efforts to protect our national and economic security do not encourage discrimination. 

Deputy Under Secretary Montaño Greene, Director Pittman, and Associate Professor Ortega, I look forward to hearing your insight on these matters.  

With that, I will turn to Ranking Member Boozman for any opening remarks he would like to make.