In Arkansas, the owners of 160 acres of farmland -- a tiny fraction of the state’s 14.5 million acres -- face an ultimatum: they must sell their property or the state will sell it for them. This may be the first time a state has taken this action against a Chinese-owned company in the United States.
Two weeks ago, we wrote about growing concerns regarding Chinese companies owning American farmland. (You can read that here). Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee, a Republican, announced on October 17th that a Chinese company that owns the farmland in question has two years to divest itself from the operations. It’s a dramatic declaration.
The announcement reflects the urgency and increasing tensions overall between the United States and China following the outbreak of COVID-19 and whether the virus was created inside a lab in China. Even before that outbreak, former president Donald Trump also launched a trade war with China, which cost American taxpayers and consumers tens of billions of dollars.
Northrup King Seed Company owns the Craighead County land in the northeast part of Arkansas. Northrup is a subsidiary of Syngenta Seeds, LLC. Syngenta makes genetically modified products like corn, wheat and soybeans. Six years ago, China National Chemical Corporation (also known as ChemChina) acquired a majority stake of the shares in Syngenta (81%). And last year, the U.S. Department of Defense classified ChemChina as a Chinese Military Company, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Huckabee said ChemChina uses the land to conduct seed research and she considers its landholdings to be a major security concern. Sanders said, "Seeds are technology. Chinese-state owned corporations filter that technology back to their homeland, stealing American research and telling our enemies how to target American farms. That is a clear threat to our national security and to our great farmers."
Attorney General Tim Griffin said that besides the ruling that the company has two years to divest its stake in land in the state, he is also imposing a $280,000 civil penalty. That figure represents a quarter of the land’s value, since the company failed to disclose its ownership in a timely manner, Griffin alleges.
In response to the Sanders’ administration’s announcement, the company said, “Our people in Arkansas are Americans led by Americans who care deeply about serving Arkansas farmers. This action hurts Arkansas farmers more than anyone else."
ABC reported that prior to 2023, 14 states either banned or restricted foreign ownership and investments in private farmland. But that nearly doubled to 24 in 2023 as states passed new measures.