Economic Tidbits

Foreign Ownership of Nebraska Land

The Nebraska Legislature’s Agricultural Committee last month held an interim study hearing on the foreign ownership of agricultural land in Nebraska. According to the Nebraska Examiner, Chair of the Committee, Sen. Steve Halloran, said constituent concerns and Chinese interest in U.S. farmland spurred him and other senators to undertake the study. A Tidbits article last fall highlighted a USDA Farm Service Agency report on foreign holdings of agricultural land. Just over 691,000 acres of private agricultural land in Nebraska are foreign-owned, or 1.5 percent of the state’s 45.5 million privately owned acres. Nearly 73 percent of the foreign-held acres are owned by Canadian investors. Italians follow with 21 percent. Antelope County has the most foreign-owned acres with 253,000 acres, roughly 36 percent the state’s foreign-owned land.

Nationwide, over 40 million acres of farm ground is foreign-owned, or 3 percent of privately owned farmland. Figure 3 shows the distribution of acres by owners’ country of origin. Canadian investors own the most land, followed by the Netherlands and Italy. Investors from China are near the bottom of the list, owning the equivalent of 0.03 percent of U.S agricultural land. Figure 4 shows a visualization of foreign-owned land with the shaded counties symbolizing equivalent acreages of foreign-owned agricultural land by nationality. The shaded counties do not indicate the location of the land. 

FIGURE 3. ACRES OF FOREIGN LAND IN U.S. BY COUNTRY, 2020 (USDA/FAS)

Source: Do only Americans own America? Foreign investment in agricultural lands in the United States, Larry Van Tassell, Professor and Director, Center for Agricultural Profitability, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, October 27, 2023.

FIGURE 4. VISUALIZING EQUIVALENTS OF FOREIGN OWNED AGRICULTURAL LAND

Source: American Farm Bureau

The investment in farmland is just part of the investment flows between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Dr. Larry Van Tassell, professor and director of the Center for Agricultural Profitability at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says U.S. companies and individuals had $6.58 trillion invested in other countries at the end of 2022, including ownership of over nine million acres of land. Foreign investment in the U.S. was $5.25 trillion, with most of it concentrated in manufacturing, insurance, and wholesale trade industries.

Van Tassell lists several reasons why foreigners might invest in the U.S. Access to the world’s largest consumer market, an excellent export platform, a friendly business environment with access to capital, natural resources, an educated workforce, a stable democracy and legal system make the U.S. attractive for investment. Van Tassell also notes reasons why persons might be concerned with foreign investment, “Many are concerned with the erosion of national security, the theft of technology, the potential for intelligence gathering, and the possible foreign control of the U.S. food and energy supply.” The potential impact on land values is another concern which has been voiced. However, a recent study by the USDA found no statistical differences in values based on the level of foreign investment in a county. Van Tassell’s article can be found here.

Worries over foreign ownership of Nebraska land is a longtime concern. Nebraska law for several years has prohibited foreign persons or corporations from owning land located further than three miles outside a city or village for more than 5 years. Land purchased for manufacturing or industrial use or for the construction and operation of railroads, public utilities and common carriers is exempt. County attorneys are responsible for the enforcement of the prohibition. The question for the Legislature is whether the renewed concerns warrant additional restrictions or requirements. 

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