Beyond Foreign Land Purchases, Miss. Senator Points Out U.S. Lag in Ag R&D Poses Strategic Risk to Nation

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VIDEO CLIP:  Senator Hyde-Smith Warns of Undue Influence on U.S. Agricultural Systems.
VIDEO:  Senator Hyde-Smith at Ag Hearing on Foreign Ownership.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), while agreeing that foreign ownership of U.S. agriculture interests represents a national security issue, noted that significant declines in U.S. agriculture research and development pose a strategic risk to the nation’s future.

Hyde-Smith serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee that used a hearing titled, Foreign Ownership in U.S. Agriculture, to grapple with legislative and policy changes needed to improve the nation’s oversight and management of foreign interests owning U.S. agricultural assets.

“American food security is obviously the national security issue we all know it is,” Hyde-Smith said.  “We need to make sure that our foreign adversaries don’t have undue influence on our agricultural systems, and that is really important in Mississippi where agriculture is our number one industry.”

The committee was told Chinese entities own slightly less than 1 percent of all foreign-owned U.S. agricultural land, while Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany are the largest foreign stakeholders. As of 2021, about 40 million acres, or 3.1 percent, of the 1.3 billion acres of privately-held U.S. agricultural land are under full or partial foreign ownership—a 50 percent increase over a decade.

Hyde-Smith asked Dr. David L. Ortega of Michigan State University to discuss the risks posed by China’s investment in agricultural research and development, and how the U.S. investment compares.

“I would consider China’s investment in agricultural research, development, and technology as one of the biggest threats to our food security.  China, since 2011, became the largest funder of agricultural research and development, far surpassing the U.S. and the European Union,” Ortega said.  “They are currently spending five times more on research and development today than they were two decades ago.  In comparison, here in the U.S., our spending and investment has fallen.  It has fallen by about a third in the last two decades, and it’s close to about half of what China is spending.”

Hyde-Smith acknowledged, along with her colleagues, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) needs more authority to effectively address growing security concerns arising from foreign interests owning U.S. agricultural and agribusiness assets, including authorizing the Secretary of Agriculture to serve on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Hyde-Smith also noted that Congress should consider providing more support for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Homeland Security.

“While I understand the Secretary is not a current member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., the committee does flag certain cases to be reviewed by USDA, which falls under the responsibility of USDA’s Office of Homeland Security,” Hyde-Smith said.  “However, the caseload is high while annual budgetary resources are rather limited – less than $1.4 million for the USDA Office of Homeland Security in the fiscal year 2023.” 

Congress last year directed USDA to replace a predominantly paper-based system of overseeing the foreign ownership of U.S. lands with an online database system for submitting data and permits as required under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978.