The truth about China’s influence on American agriculture

AFRE Professor David Ortega provides expert testimony, authors opinion on 'China’s influence on American agriculture'

AFRE Professor David Ortega
David Ortega's research program focuses on understanding consumer, producer, and agribusiness decision-making to better inform food policies and marketing strategies. Ortega has research experience in several developing and emerging countries, including China, India, Kenya, Malawi, and Rwanda. Over the past fifteen years, his work in China has focused on the economics of food quality and on evaluating emerging markets for U.S. agricultural products.

As we head into November’s presidential election, Chinese ownership of U.S. agricultural land has emerged as one of the hottest political topics. This is reflected not only in remarks made by policymakers and in numerous media reports, but in the significant amount of state legislative activity seeking to ban foreign — and particularly Chinese — ownership of American farmland.

Chinese ownership became the focal point of a U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry hearing back in September 2023, where I testified. It is slated to become a central issue at a U.S. House Ag Committee hearing titled “The Danger China Poses to American Agriculture.”

The discourse surrounding Chinese ownership of U.S agricultural land has been clouded by misconceptions, diverting attention from the true nature and risks of Chinese investments in U.S. agriculture. Available data and evidence suggest that Chinese ownership, representing a minuscule fraction of our agricultural lands, does not compromise our ability to produce food or manage our agricultural resources effectively.

The reality is that the Chinese government, like most other governments, does not directly own any agricultural land in the U.S. Chinese-owned U.S. farmland is a very small fraction of all foreign-owned land in the U.S. — 346,915 acres, or less than 1 percent of all foreign-owned agricultural land. Chinese entities have a stake in just 0.03 percent of all privately held U.S. agricultural land, significantly less than investors from the Netherlands, Portugal, and Luxembourg. And Chinese ownership of American agricultural land is largely centralized, with the vast majority concentrated in the hands of Smithfield Foods and a billionaire investor.

Food security concerns are raised when discussing the threat of Chinese ownership of American farmland. The U.S. is not only self-sufficient in basic food production, but we also provide food for many across the globe. Food insecurity arises in our country not because of production deficits, but because of issues of affordability and access facing consumers.

Chinese ownership of agricultural land does not threaten our ability to produce food. The focus on this issue is distracting our attention from understanding China’s foreign investments in agriculture and the risks that it poses to our agricultural sector.

Driven by a need to feed a growing population with limited arable land, China has shifted toward acquiring established agribusiness companies such as Switzerland’s Syngenta, a chemical and seed company, and Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.

China’s ambitions to exert greater control over its import supply chains and have a stronger hand in global commodities may propel additional investments in trade, logistics, and the agricultural commodity sectors. Issues over consolidation, further acquisitions of agribusinesses and concerns surrounding intellectual property in the agri-food space need to be monitored and evaluated.

In these debates, it is important to recognize China’s importance to U.S. agriculture. Our exports to China have undeniably benefitted American farmers, fostering growth within our agricultural industry. As a key player in the global agricultural market, China holds a lot of potential as a market for U.S. agricultural products.

It is also crucial that our conversation and debate on China’s influence does not fuel xenophobia and discrimination. The significance of maintaining balanced and respectful dialogue on these issues cannot be overstated. It is through measured debates and informed policymaking that we can truly secure the prosperity of American agriculture.

View Dr. Ortega's official written statement to United States House of Representatives Agriculture Committee.


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