The increased tensions between the United States and China are playing out in many ways, including a push in Congress to ban TikTok and passage of a law funding the domestic production of computer chips, called the CHIPS law.
Amid the escalation, state and federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to ban Chinese-owned companies from owning U.S. farmland.
“Chinese corporations and people who are associated with the Chinese Communist Party should not own any land, a single acre of American farmland. We need to protect our food security. We need to protect our national security so let’s ban them,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on Fox News last month.
But the numbers show China’s stake in U.S. farmland is actually quite small.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 3% of all privately held agricultural land in the U.S. is foreign-owned.
Canadian investors actually own the largest share of that land.
Chinese investors, on the other hand, holds less than 400,000 acres.
That means of the 3% percent of foreign-owned farmland in the U.S., less than a percent of it is owned by Chinese companies.
In North Carolina, for example, the ownership consists primarily of one company.
Spectrum News filed a Freedom of Information Request with the USDA and found with the exception of one other piece of land, Smithfield Foods is the only registered Chinese-owned company that actually owns farmland in the state.
Smithfield tells Spectrum News its parent company is not a Chinese state-owned enterprise and does not undertake any commercial activities on behalf of the Chinese government.
Smithfield pointed out it employs around 40,000 people in the U.S.
CATO Institute Vice President Scott Lincicome argues the national security threat nationally is low: “The reality is that to get to any level of general Chinese ownership that would raise real concerns for U.S. security you would have to see an absolutely massive, and totally unlikely increase.”
But Lincicome said it does depend where the farmland is located.
“Where national security issues typically would arise…would be when it’s in the proximity to U.S. military bases or other national security related properties, "Lincicome said.
In April, the House in the North Carolina General Assembly voted to restrict countries considered hostile by the U.S. government, from buying farmland near a military instillation.
Federally, there’s a range of legislation that would ban Chinese purchases of farmland and even not allow current companies to operate.
Lincicome said the legislation with a better chance of actually getting through Congress is a bill called the SOIL Act which is co-sponsored Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. The bill would increase oversight and improve data monitoring of foreign owned farmland.
“Then we have that data, and we see a bigger problem or a different problem, that’s when you should see government action, not just again just running in with a sledgehammer and messing up the whole thing,” Lincicome said.
Despite Chinese ownership remaining minimal in the U.S. the potential harm could be greater than another target of Congress which is TikTok.
“If I asked you what did you think was more valuable, your food or your privacy…[and] you didn’t say food now, you’d say it pretty quickly if you ever got hungry, said Arizona State University Professor Rhett Larson.