Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst announces bill to provide more oversight over foreign farmland ownership

The bill, announced Tuesday in a call with journalists, would allow the Department of Agriculture to investigate land ownership from foreign countries like China.


Emily Nyberg

Sen. Joni Ernst listens to questions from The Daily Iowan Politics Team in her office in the Russell Office Building in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

Alejandro Rojas, Summer Editor

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, announced Tuesday that she is working on a bill that would increase oversight over the ownership of farmland by Chinese investment.

The legislation comes from a bipartisan effort by Ernst and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, the chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Under the legislation, the Department of Agriculture would be given the power to investigate foreign land ownership and create a public database identifying the foreign owners.

Ernst said the legislation was the result of the increasing amount of Chinese land purchasing, something the USDA released a report on in January. According to a USDA report from 2021, around 507,000 acres of land in Iowa are foreign-owned.

During a call with journalists on Tuesday, June 20, Ernst spoke about the importance of the legislation.

“Iowa farmers know well food security is national security. The increasing foreign investment in American farmland represents a grave threat to our national security,” she said. “It’s not just our farmers who are sounding the alarm, it’s everyday Iowans who fear our adversaries knocking on their back door.” 

An example of the threat she provided was the Chinese purchasing of a corn mill near an Air Force base in North Dakota. She also referenced the spy balloon that flew over part of the U.S. before being shot down in February.

“I think that’s when more and more Americans started to say wow, this is really something that needs to be taken care of so that we can prohibit these types of actions or at least have a review of these types of actions in the future,” she said.

Iowa already has laws that help limit foreign investment in land, something Ernst highlighted. The goal of the legislation, she explained, was to enable those protections throughout the rest of the country.

At the same time, she said the legislation would in no way prohibit future foreign investments. 

“This particular bill is not prohibiting foreign ownership in Iowa but it is strengthening our oversight and making sure that federal agencies do have a seat at the table as we’re reviewing foreign investment in the United States,” Ernst said. “We’re just protecting our national security interests here in the United States.”