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Foreign Holdings in South Dakota Ag Land Jumped 134% in 2019, Total Still Just 0.8% of SD Ag Acres

According to our Governor, “food security” depends on not depending on foreigners to grow our food:

The day we let another country grow our food for us is the day they control us [Governor Kristi Noem, in Erin Ballard, “$300M Soybean Plant Will Process 285 Million Bushels Annually {paywall},” Aberdeen American News, 2019.07.18].

The Governor and our other elected leaders thus surely share the alarm Senator Elizabeth Warren is sounding about the trend of foreign ownership of American farmland:

I’m with Elizabeth Warren when she says, “Right now, the farmland that is already in foreign ownership, if it were all put in one place, is the size of Virginia, and that not only creates a problem for farming communities and for our food security, it creates a threat to the safety and the defense of the United States of America.”

Warren has it right.  This is a trend that has been ongoing for quite a few years now. You can google articles and commentary about it dating back for over a decade. It needs to be reined in.  Given our farm state status, I expect our congressional trio of Sens. Thune and Rounds and Rep. Johnson, to let us know what they’re doing about it [John Tsitrian, “Foreign Ownership of American Farmland Needs to Be Addressed. The Trend Is Not Necessarily Our Friend,” South Dakota Standard, 2021.07.20].

From 2009 through 2019 (during most of which time our Governor was serving in Congress, where she might have tried to do something about this problem), foreign entities increased their holdings of U.S. farmland from 22.2 million acres to 35.2 million acres. According to Farm Service Agency’s most recent report on foreign farm holdings, that’s “2.7 percent of all privately held agricultural land and 1.5 percent of all land in the United States.” As of December 31, 2019, Canadian investors held the biggest chunk of that farmland, almost 10.5 million ag acres (almost two thirds of which is forest land—timber!). The Chinese, whom we like to beat up over their wiener plant in Sioux Falls, held less than 243,000 ag acres, well behind the Canadians as well as the Dutch, Germans, Danes, French, Italians, Japanese, Luxembourgers, Belgians, Portuguese, British, Swiss, Irish, and Mexicans.

At the end of 2019, foreign entities hold 306,601 acres of South Dakota ag land, 0.8% of our 37.9 million ag acres. Foreign entities snapped up 175,384 ag acres in 2019, representing a one-year increase of 134% in foreign ownership of South Dakota ag land. 87.9% of South Dakota’s foreign-held ag land is in these ten counties:

County Foreign-held ag acres (Dec 31, 2019)
Deuel 83,272
Hyde 37,631
McPherson 36,044
Clark 35,435
Minnehaha 17,708
Roberts 17,136
Ziebach 12,584
Butte 12,330
Grant 8,998
Pennington 8,311

Of course, South Dakota’s one-party regime has long courted foreign investment in our ag industry, so it’s hard to figure out whether the Governor shares the concern raised by Tsitrian and Senator Warren about foreign ownership of America’s food production system or whether her concerns about food security are fictitious.


  1. Porter Lansing 2021-07-21 10:38

    Foreigners covet USA farm land because flathead connies have a “foreign” concept of modern socialism.

  2. Donald Pay 2021-07-21 11:49

    Why is it that politicians are just concerned about farmland? We give away certain minerals on federal lands to foreign corporations FOR NOTHING. They don’t even have to buy the land or bid on the minerals. They just walk onto our public land, obtain some permits, strip all the gold, silver, uranium, platinum, whatever. and process it, then ship it wherever they want. They pay no federal severance tax. Many of them (like Brohm in South Dakota) leave a mess that taxpayers have to clean up. And get this: South Dakota politicians and the US EPA decided to contract with a FOREIGN COMPANY to clean up the mess. The payoff for the company is that they likely will be given the right to mine at that site and cart off more money from our public lands.

  3. Nick Nemec 2021-07-21 11:53

    37,000+ acres of foreign owned ag land in my county (Hyde). Is there a link to the names of the foreign owners?

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-07-21 12:02

    Alas, Nick, not in that FSA report. FSA only lists foreign holdings in each county by country of investor ans use of land (crop, pasture, forest, other ag, and non-ag).

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-07-21 12:07

    Indeed, Donald. SD state government supports Chinese mining rights for uranium at Powertech/Azarga’s site north of Edgemont. Noem, Daugaard, and Rounds all defended Canadians’ seizure of property rights through eminent domain for the Keystone pipelines. Eminent domaining the pipeline routes meant taking ag land out of production, which is a more direct threat to our food security than foreign ownership of crop land that still produces food.

  6. John Dale 2021-07-21 13:28

    I would like to see an index of “quality of land purchased”.

    If that .8% is the best of the best, I have a bigger problem.

    As it stands, get that land into the hands of Americans and restore the American family farm.

    That’s my $0.02

  7. mike from iowa 2021-07-21 15:57

    159 acres of Kossuth County (think Algona) iowa sold recently for $15,200 per acre. No idea who bought it.

  8. Mark Anderson 2021-07-21 18:19

    Wow, along with Nick, 37,000 acres in Hyde County. Why?

  9. bearcreekbat 2021-07-21 18:27

    The concept that “foreign entities” increased their holdings of U.S. farmland seems potentially misleading and dangerous. If “foreign entities” means individuals that acquire land for, or at the driection of, foreign governments then that certainly does deserve some concern. It makes sense to take reasonable steps to protect one country from an intrusion by foreign governments, whether those foreign governments try to influence elections or try to acquire control of U.S. farmland.

    But if “foreign entities” just means some individuals who happen to be from a foreign country or live in a foreign country, but does not represent the government of that foreign country in any way then it seems we are again encouraging unjustified xenophobia. As best I can there are good and bad land owners from the U.S. and everywhere else. Simply because someone is a foreigner, however, says nothing about whether they will be a decent caretaker of the land or whether they will pollute and destroy the land and try to hurt anyone. The same is true for private companies, whether owned by U.S. citizens or people from another country, that own farmland in the U.S.

    Just like U.S. citizens, foreign owners are subject to the same laws and restrictions concerning land use. Whether some owner will violate such laws seems totally unrelated to with whether that owner is from a different country than the U.S. Creating hostility toward foreign individuals, however, does seem consistent with the current but unfortunate U.S. romance with xenophobia stoked by Trump and his supporters. (That makes it especially curious and surprising if someone like Elizabeth Warren actually has jumped on the xenophobe bandwagon).

    Railing against foreign ownership of U.S. without clarifying whether the complaint against a foreign government instead of some hapless individual or group of individuals who happen to be from a foreign country seems dangerous.

  10. Arlo Blundt 2021-07-21 21:59

    Well…there is a lot of orphaned capital out there in the world that needs a place to live..I’m puzzled by investment in Hyde or McPherson County by foreign entities as well but remember my Grandfather’s old adage about buying farm land “They aren’t making any more of it”.In Europe, the concept that you can buy 10,000 acres of land is nearly inconceivable. That 10,000 acres in South Dakota is relatively cheap compared to anything in Europe and most farmland in the USA. Why not park some of that excess capital in South Dakota farmland until a better opportunity comes along. The value of the land is not likely to go down.And..they aren’t making any more of it…..that’s my rational.

  11. Nick Nemec 2021-07-22 09:29

    I’m scratching my head on the 37,000 acres of foreign owned land in Hyde County, which amounts to nearly 6.9% of the land in the county. Over 1.5 townships in a not quite 24 township county, 2.5 640 acre sections in a standard 36 section township. I have plat maps for the county and while some of the maps list artificial enties as the owner, most are searchable through the Secretary of State’s website.

  12. Kent Frerichs 2021-07-22 14:37

    The law cited below (43-2A-2) was the result of a bill that I proposed and was enacted in 1979 in the South Dakota Legislature. This restricts “non-resident aliens” from owning more than 160 acres of South Dakota agricultural land. (43-2A-7) was put in place to clarify the enforcement of this restriction. This requires the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources to monitor sales for compliance and for the attorney general to investigate and take legal action if necessary.

    Universal Citation: SD Codified L § 43-2A-2 (through 2011)
    43-2A-2. Maximum alien ownership of agricultural land–Exceptions. No alien, who is not a resident of this state, of some state or territory of the United States or of the District of Columbia; and no foreign government shall hereafter acquire agricultural lands, or any interest therein, exceeding one hundred sixty acres, except such as may be acquired by devise or inheritance, and such as may be held as security for indebtedness. The provisions of this section do not apply to citizens, foreign governments or subjects of a foreign country whose right to hold land are secured by treaty.
    Source: SL 1979, ch 291, § 1.

    43-2A-7. Reports monitored by Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
    The Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources shall monitor, for compliance to this chapter, biannual reports transmitted to the department pursuant to section 6 of the United States Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978. If this review reveals evidence of noncompliance with this chapter the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources shall refer this evidence to the attorney general who shall investigate the case and initiate legal action if necessary in the circuit court district in which the land held in violation of § 43-2A-4 is situated.

    Source: SL 1979, ch 291, § 5; SL 2021, ch 1 (Ex. Ord. 21-3), § 14, eff. Apr. 19, 2021.

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