Foreigners still plowing money into US farmland, but rate of increase has eased off since the '70s

Are foreigners still buying up America's farmland? Some are, but not the way investors were in the 1970s, when rising farmland values were increasing at an average rate of 13 percent a year. According to the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS), foreign-owned acreage at year-end 1983 totaled 13.7 million acres - only a 2 percent increase over the figure for 1982.

Peter DeBraal and Alex Majchrowicz, who review and analyze the USDA's reports on foreign-owned land, say the total acreage included is too small to have any effect on American agriculture at the national level. Areas of heaviest concentration, they believe, could in some cases be affected. But overall figures probably exaggerate foreign farmland transactions in the United States. That's because the law requires US corporations with foreign shareholders having a 5 percent or more interest to register their agricultural land as foreign-held.

ERS reports that the USDA registry shows 63 percent of the foreign-held agricultural land is actually owned by US corporations.

Last year, nearly 8,500 foreigners - who have been required since 1979 to report their agricultural landholdings to the USDA - from some 80 nations owned either crop, forest, or pasture land in 49 states plus Guam and Puerto Rico. About 2.7 million foreign-owned acres in Maine make it the No. 1 state in outside holdings. These are tied to three large timber companies - two of which are US organizations, partly foreign-owned. Georgia is second, followed by Texas and California.

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