Hay bales

Foreign ownership of Ohio farmland

As 2020 presidential candidates jockey for position, interesting issues can arise and become a national topic of conversation seemingly overnight.

So was the case when potential 2020 Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren spoke in Iowa about foreign companies buying American farmland. Suddenly Ty Higgins, Ohio Farm Bureau’s director of media relations, started receiving phone calls on a topic not related to water, trade or a wet spring for Ohio farmers.

Higgins told National Public Radio in a May interview that “once a foreign entity buys up however many acres they want, Americans might never be able to secure that land again. So, once we lose it, we may lose it for good.”

In Ohio, about half a million acres of farmland are owned by foreign investors — with Germany and the Netherlands leading in most land bought. China is another significant investor.

Higgins noted there is no federal restriction on foreign farmland purchases, so it is up to each individual state to come up with its own regulations. For example, it is restricted in Iowa, where no farmland is owned by foreign investors, whereas Higgins said in Texas it is a “free for all.”

In Ohio, there is voluntary registration by the foreign entity with the state, but nothing prohibiting those overseas from purchasing farmland.

The loss of farmland itself is of particular concern, Higgins said. “Every acre of productive farmland that is converted over to something other than agriculture is an acre of land that no longer produces food,” causing a ripple effect in the state’s economy and a potential hardship on rural communities. Higgins comments with NPR also were later included in a story done by Newsweek.