National Programs & Policy Coordinator
WASHINGTON, DC, September 28, 2023 – The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) applauds the Senate Agriculture Committee’s decision to host a hearing on Wednesday, bringing to light the rise in farmland investment. The hearing, “Foreign Ownership in US Agriculture”, was an important opportunity to amplify how concentrated farmland ownership harms US farmers and rural communities. NFFC and our allies appreciate that Congress is addressing this issue, however, the focus must remain on a major driving cause of rising farmland costs and consolidation – farmland investment by corporate entities within the US and beyond.
As highlighted by witnesses during the Hearing, offshore companies and individuals, mostly Canadian, only own a small fraction – about 3% – of US farmland. Focusing only on foreign ownership distracts from an overarching trend of rising corporate investment in farmland, largely driven by U.S-based multinational corporations, private equity firms, and pension funds. Data suggests that the number of farmland properties owned by domestic institutions tripled from 2009 to 2022, and the market value of that property increased from less than $2 billion to more than $14 billion in the same time period. Regardless of their location, institutional investors and corporations engaged in harmful, extractive investment schemes that buy large tracts of farmland hurt farmers, ranchers, and rural communities throughout the US.
Fran Miller, Senior Staff Attorney and adjunct faculty member at Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, said: “Corporate land grabs are a significant challenge for our farmers and rural communities, but that is not just limited to foreign owners. Pension funds and other investment entities financializing agricultural land are buying up farmland for profit, heightening barriers to success for farmers, especially new and beginning farmers and those from historically marginalized communities, and undermining the wellbeing of rural communities. The Farmland for Farmers Act addresses this issue.”
The Farmland for Farmers Act (S. 2583), introduced by Senator Cory Booker, is an important step to ensure that US farmland stays in the hands of independent producers. During the hearing, Senator Booker emphasized the timely need for restrictions on speculative corporate investments of farmland by domestic corporations. The Act restricts corporations, both domestic and foreign, from purchasing US farmland for investment purposes and directs USDA to robustly track and regulate corporate farmland ownership. In a letter to Congress authored by NFFC, the Farmland for Farmers Act was endorsed by more than 70 food and farm groups, including the National Young Farmers Coalition, Farm Aid, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Wisconsin Farmers Union, and many more.
Jim Goodman, President of NFFC, said, “With the exception of countries deemed to be security threats, Congress has shown little interest in who actually owns US farmland. Far too little attention has been paid to ownership of farmland by domestic corporations. That increasing tracts of farmland are bought by wealthy individuals, investment firms and retirement funds undercuts environmental protection and the existence of vibrant rural communities. The best means of caring for the land is to put policies in place that keep more farmers on the land and provide pathways that give young farmers and under-served groups access to land. Senator Booker’s Farmland for Farmers Act is a groundbreaking federal policy that will keep farmland in the hands of those who work and love the land. We call on our Congressional leaders to support this effort in the 2023 Farm Bill.”
Legislation that better governs farmland ownership is an urgent need. As the current generation of farmers retires, more than 40% of all US farmland is expected to come into new ownership over the next decade. Young and beginning farmers, however, have to jump over hurdles to access farmland. In a survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition, the majority of these farmers named accessing affordable farmland as their top challenge. Congress must prioritize action in the 2023 Farm Bill to combat corporate land ownership, support land access for new and beginning farmers through the bipartisan Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act (H.R. 3955, S.2340), and defend the land rights of rural and historically underserved communities.
“Equitable access to affordable, quality farmland is the top challenge the next generation of farmers face. Speculative investments in land as a financial asset—by both foreign and domestic corporations—are directly and negatively impacting the ability of young and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) farmers to compete in agricultural real estate markets,” said Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Policy Director with the National Young Farmers Coalition. “We need action from Congress in the upcoming farm bill to regulate speculative corporate purchases of farmland, invest in secure land access for farmers, and fund the collection of robust and current data.”
The Coalition thanks Senators Stabenow, Boozman, and the Senate Agriculture Committee for their leadership in holding this hearing and willingness to address farmland ownership. NFFC calls on all members of Congress to demonstrate support for independent producers in the US by including the Farmland for Farmers Act in the 2023 Farm Bill.
Since 1986, National Family Farm Coalition has been mobilizing family farmers and ranchers to achieve fair prices, vibrant communities, and healthy foods free of corporate domination. Today, NFFC includes 31 member groups representing family farmers, ranchers, fisherfolk, and rural advocates across the United States.