Fort Scott Tribune: Op/Ed Column: Foreign landowners are accountable, agriculture experts say

Maine is the State with the largest number of acres owned by foreign persons.

Hawaii (9.3 percent) and Alabama (3.9 percent) follow Maine in percentage of foreign ownership. Kansas and Missouri possess foreign agricultural land ownership percentages of only .1 and .2 percent respectively.

Foreign investors who buy, sell or hold a direct or indirect interest in agricultural lands in the United States are required under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act to report their holdings and transactions to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

The Secretary of Agriculture has delegated the responsibility for collecting this information to the Farm Service Agency.

Foreigner investors buying or selling land must report such transactions within 90 days of the date of the sale. Failure to file an accurate or timely report can result in a penalty with fines up to 25 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land.

The act requires reports to be filed by:

* Individuals who are not U.S. citizens or citizens of the Northern Mariana Islands or the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands;

* Individuals who are not lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence or who are not paroled into the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act;

* Any organization created under the laws of a foreign government or which has located its principal place of business outside the United States;

* Any U.S. organization in which a significant interest or substantial control is directly or indirectly held by foreign individuals, organizations, or governments; and

* Any foreign governments.

Farm Service Agency form FSA-153 is used to report land holdings and transactions. The completed form must be returned to the FSA county office where the land is located.

According to Farm Service Agency reports, foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land remained relatively steady from the passage of this law in 1978 through 2006 at approximately 1 percent of the total. Since 2006, the percentage has increased by more than 500,000 acres to approximately 21.2 million acres — slightly more than 1.6 percent of the 1.3 billion acres of privately owned U.S. agricultural land (farm and forest land).

Forest land accounts for 64 percent of all foreign-owned acreage, cropland for 11 percent, and pasture and other agricultural land for 25 percent.

About 61 percent of the reported foreign holdings involve land actually owned by U.S. corporations. The law requires them to register their land holdings as foreign if as little as 10 percent of their stock is held by foreign investors. The remaining 39 percent of the foreign-held land is owned by investors not affiliated with U.S. firms.

A total of 69 percent of foreign-held acreage is owned by investors (including individuals, corporations, partnerships, etc.) from Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Germany (in descending rank order).

Maine is the State with the largest number of acres owned by foreign persons. Foreign holdings in Maine account for 18.5 percent of that state’s privately owned agricultural land and 16 percent of all the reported foreign-owned agricultural land nationwide. Six companies own most of the foreign-held acres in Maine, almost all in forest land. The foreign interests in these companies are predominately Canadian. Outside of Maine, foreign holdings are concentrated in the West and South, each containing 32 percent of all reported foreign holdings of U.S. agricultural land.

Hawaii (9.3 percent) and Alabama (3.9 percent) follow Maine in percentage of foreign ownership. Kansas and Missouri possess foreign agricultural land ownership percentages of only .1 and .2 percent respectively.

These findings are based on reports submitted to USDA under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

Fort Scott Tribune: Op/Ed Column: Foreign landowners are accountable, agriculture experts say

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