(The Center Square) — Foreign adversaries could be banned from owning or leasing agricultural lands in Louisiana under legislation approved in a House committee this week.
House Bill 125, sponsored by Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monroe, is pending a floor vote in the House after members of the Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture, and Rural Development Committee unanimously approved the measure on Wednesday. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.
“This bill is really centered around foreign adversaries who are coming to Louisiana, acquiring agricultural lands, acquiring lands near our military bases, and this is imposing more a national security threat than we have seen in many decades before,” Echols told the committee. “Because of these agricultural acquisitions, it’s posing a threat now to national security, our food security, and even some of our critical infrastructure because agricultural land is considered critical infrastructure.”
HB 125 ties the definition of a foreign adversary to a federal list that currently includes China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela, though it exempts legal permanent residents. It would require any foreign business that buys, sells, leases, or transfers agricultural land after July 30 to report the transaction to the Secretary of State and Attorney General.
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain noted that about 3% of agricultural lands nationwide are owned by foreign entities, the majority from Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany.
“One of the big issues is we simply don’t know how much land China and other adversaries may own because it’s tied up in multiple layers,” he said. “One of the things we’re worried about is if they buy up all our ag land and take it out of food production and put it into something else. Because foreign adversaries do not have our best interests in mind at all.”
The bill follows an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data by the Louisiana State University AgCenter last year that showed 1.4 million acres, or about 18% of the state’s total farmland was under foreign ownership in 2019, the last year of available data.
The total represented an increase of 277,706 acres since 2015, with the majority of holdings in Vernon, LaSalle and Beauregard parishes. Over 88% of all foreign-owned land in Louisiana is in forestry production, and about 8% in crop production, with entities with the largest holdings from Canada, the Netherlands, and the Cayman Islands, according to the analysis.