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Watching Out for Foreign Farmland Buyers

Aerial view of countryside

Iowa was already widely recognized as a state with some of the toughest requirements for foreign ownership of farmland. But that just got tougher. Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law on April 9 that expanded investigatory powers for agricultural land purchases and raised the fines for foreign entities that own more than the maximum of 320 acres.

“Iowa’s laws on foreign ownership of land have long been recognized as some of the strongest in the nation, with other states looking to us when crafting their own policies,” Reynolds said in a statement.

“Yet, in the decades since we first addressed this issue, adversaries like China have grown significantly more aggressive on the world stage, constantly looking for any opening to assert themselves at the expense of our country. One all-too-common weapon in this battle is the purchase of American farmland,” she added.

Nearly three dozen states have worked to strengthen their laws concerning agricultural land ownership. Harrison Pittman, the director of The National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said that the actions are largely due to politicians’ concerns that China is a growing threat to the United States and may try to acquire farmland, sometimes surreptitiously, near military bases.

RELATED: Watch the American Farmland Owner conversation with Harrison Pittman on what states are doing about foreign entities owning U.S. farmland and whether China is really the threat that some politicians believe that it is. See that here. 

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said about the state’s new law: “With the additional enforcement, deterrence and disclosure tools and requirements that are incorporated through this legislation, Iowa’s prohibition on the foreign ownership of farmland will continue to be a model for other states.”

The new law gives the attorney general subpoena power to investigate farmland purchases. Governor Reynolds said the additional investigatory power can help detect whether foreigners are trying to skirt previous law by investing in limited liability corporations that buy farmland.

More information about the structure of ownership will now be required under the new law. The secretary of state’s office will also now have increased duties in tracking foreign ownership of land.

Changes in fines for failing to disclose purchases/leases of agricultural land by foreign entities have increased substantially. The previous law capped fines at $2,000 per violation.

Violations under the new law could result in a fine of up to 25% of the property’s value. And if the foreign entity fails to report holdings once every two years as required, it could receive a maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation.

RELATED: The Cedar Rapids Gazette details how agricultural acres in Iowa owned by foreign entities over the past decade have more than doubled. Read that report here. 


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