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Foreign Investors Increase Farm Holdings in South Dakota, Nebraska Faster Than National Average in 2020

Kristi Noem’s pal Charles Herbster said something to his gropies at a Trump rally yesterday about stopping China from buying any more Nebraska farm land.

Herbster likely has no more intention to do anything about foreign ownership of farm land than Governor Noem, who let another 50,000 acres of South Dakota agricultural land slide into foreign investors’ hands in 2020. According to the USDA, at the end of 2020, foreign investors held 356,579 acres of farm land in South Dakota, a 16% increase over 2019. Nebraska saw foreign farm holdings increase 33%. Nationwide, foreign holdings of farmland increased just under 7% in 2019.

The Chinese are far from the top investors. In South Dakota, the Canadians hold 35% of the foreign-controlled farm land, while the British hold 18%. In Nebraska, Canadians hold 72% of the foreign-controlled farm land, and the Italians hold another 21%. China holds less than 1% of foreign-held agricultural land nationwide; in 2020, the USDA reports just one Chinese investor acquiring three parcels totaling 2,527 acres in the United States, while 97 Canadian investors snapped 5,151 new parcels totaling almost 1.9 million acres.

Rural activists understand that land is better managed by folks who have to live with the consequences of land management. But do Herbster, Noem, and other Republicans ever say no to billionaires from any country investing in the prairie?

For years, Joe Maxwell has lobbied for more states to enact laws to monitor foreign investment in farmland. The president and cofounder of Farm Action… said foreign investment, corporate investment, and investment by billionaires concerns him the most. He contends these entities aren’t looking at the production value of farmland. They view it as an investment, he said, which in turn drives up prices for farmers.

“We want everyone to think about, ‘Who do you want to be your farmer?’” Maxwell said. “If you’re happy with Bayer/Monsanto—a German corporation—being your farmer. Or Saudi Arabia. Or China. Then OK. But if you’re not OK with that, then you ought to care about this issue. We ought to make sure the next generation of farmers are individuals who will care for the land for future generations and care about producing safe and healthy food for their neighbors” [Jonathan Hettinger, “US Farmland Increasingly Controlled by Foreign Investment,” Civil Eats, 2022.04.22].

To the north, city leaders in Grand Forks can’t say no to Chinese investors proposing to build a new corn-milling plant; they’re even getting tax breaks.

“Tough on China” sounds good at rallies for the red-hatters, but when foreign money comes calling, don’t expect folks like Herbster and Noem to turn that money down.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-05-02

    Canadians are plundering public lands, too. Today, thanks to the Trump Organization the United States is in debt to the tune of $27 TRILLION so the US is encouraging mining companies from outside the country, especially Canada, to drill more holes in the Earth looking for gold and silver. The surging price of gold means Republicans and foreign miners see the sacred Black Hills as a sacrifice zone and the Forest Service is mostly powerless to stop it.

    But Earth haters funded by the Koch and DeVos cabals through Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund and scattered in the American West are aiming to derail President Joe Biden’s America the Beautiful Initiative. A Texas group calling itself American Stewards of Liberty with ties to the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion has presented anti-Earth resolutions to Republican audiences wooing Earth hater Pete Ricketts. In January, Bowman County, North Dakota Sheriff Frank Eberle began rousing rabble after a local Farm Bureau attacked President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative. According to WNAX radio Margaret Byfield appeared in Yankton to spread her Koch-coddling crap.

    The Ogallala Aquifer, also called the Great Plains Aquifer, is being depleted at a far faster rate than its recharge flows and nearly all the groundwater sampled from it is contaminated with uranium and nitrates from industrial agriculture. Nebraska’s Republican cannaphobic governor is panicking and blaming Colorado.

  2. Richard Schriever 2022-05-02

    kurtz, FWIW, Colorado does not control the portion of the aquifer that lies beneath its borders. More to a century ago, the Eastern counties of Colorado signed away their underground water rights to Kansas.

  3. larry kurtz 2022-05-02

    Nebraska signed the South Platte River Compact with Colorado in 1923.

    In 1998, when Kansas sued Nebraska over its groundwater use the Supreme Court of the United States didn’t even mention the word “groundwater” and although it never appeared in the initial 1943 Republican River compact the Court ruled its use affects flows.

  4. John 2022-05-02

    This is outside of our region and watersheds — yet gives a good analysis of the poor planning and management from the earth haters.
    Get your popcorn while you watch the air conditioning turn off in Arizona, Nevada, and California this summer.
    The “lake” er, reservoir dropped over100 feet. If it drops another 32 feet, estimated as soon as May, the reservoir will be below the inlet level for the turbines that produce hydro power.
    Sunbirds will flee north.

  5. bearcreekbat 2022-05-02

    The implication of this story and some comments seems to be that “foreign investors” are somehow destructive or undesireable in contrast to non-foreign investors, such as regular South Dakotans. Is there some inherent characteristic in non-South Dakotans that justifies a belief or assertion that they are less worthy than SD investors?

    The article says: “Rural activists understand that land is better managed by folks who have to live with the consequences of land management.” Is there some study that supports such a broad claim?

    Hettinger is reported as saying ” We ought to make sure the next generation of farmers are individuals who will care for the land for future generations and care about producing safe and healthy food for their neighbors.” Certainly that makes sense, but how does he connect the dots to conclude that “foreign investors” will not care for the land or produce healthy food?

    Such an implications seems similar to the idea that immigrants are somehow less desireable human beings than natural born US citizens, which seems to be consistent with the current Trumpist/Republican philosophy. Just as I don’t understand how simply being an immigrant means a person is bad or undesirable, I don’t see how being a “foreign investor” makes someone bad or undesirable compared to a SD investor.

    How is the negative stereotype factually justified?

  6. larry kurtz 2022-05-02

    Draining fragile aquifers and quietly lobbying for more water from the Gila River is the House of Saud who owns land in Arizona where they raise alfalfa to ship to Saudi Arabia.

  7. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-02

    Well…I don’t know how we acquaint investors from neighboring states or even Canadians, for that matter, with “foreigners”…more South Dakotan xenophobia. If you’re not certifiably Lutheran, and a member of the local pool or dart league, you must be foreign. If you can’t promptly answer the question “Who are your folks? ” with a complete rundown through three generations which include a local bloodline, you are suspect and not to be trusted.

  8. Dicta 2022-05-02

    All this recent foreign investor chatter (not just here) seems like an attempt to distract from the idea that we Americans have done a very fine job of ripping our environment to pieces ourselves, tyvm.

  9. Mark Anderson 2022-05-02

    Well Arlo, a man named Manuel Beekler who owned the pool hall in Highmore taught my friend Don McLaughlin and I how to play snooker. Those were the best lessons of my life. After more or less a weekly pool game for well over fifty years I’m starting to like the game to say nothing of the liquid to wash it down. I took apart my own pool table a year ago to tile the floor. My wife likes it gone. I will put it together again in my studio when the time comes. Thank you youtube. I was tired of practicing, its like sex with your left hand, it’s just not right. I will have to start up my weekly pool league again. Your right about foreigners, when my mother died in Highmore after 40 years of living there we were still suspect. We came from Sioux Falls which didn’t help.

  10. cibvet 2022-05-02

    The EB-5 program has been a great way for “foreign investors to launder their money and buy their citizenship while the poor sod who does the back breaking work that keeps this country going must return to their home country. Yes, there is a difference in “immigrants”, “foreign investors” SD investors. It’s called money. Some are here, others buy their way in and the other must go home till more actual labor is needed.
    Nature of the capitalism beast for many, I guess.

  11. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-02

    Mark: your story regarding snooker is a good one….I was taught by an older fella who always wore a faded blue suit, who came into the pool hall over lunch hour and played snooker with the pharmacist…they were both very good..he taught us the rotation and how to count points and the game caught on with my generation…haven’t seen a snooker table for years…its a great game. It isn’t pool, it’s Billiards.

  12. Mary D 2022-05-03

    What happened to the SD Family Farm Act? Also, Nebraska had similar legislation on the books too.

  13. Kent+Frerichs 2022-05-04

    “Who do you want to be your farmer?” This is the question asked by Joe Maxwell, co-founder of “Farm Action”.

    Cory Heidelberger/DFP called attention to this alarming headline:
    “According to the USDA, at the end of 2020, foreign investors held 356,579 acres of farm land in South Dakota, a 16% increase over 2019.”

    As you will note in the South Dakota Statute that restricts non-resident alien ownership of agricultural land, the SD Department of Agriculture and Natural
    Resources is required to monitor such ownership for compliance and to refer possible violations to the Attorney General for enforcement. This law was
    passed in 1979. I had the privilege of being prime sponsor.

    Alien Ownership of Agricultural Land: S.D. Comp. Laws Ann. § 43-2A-2-7Aliens are not allowed to acquire more than 160 acres of agricultural land43-2A-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.

    Land in violation is forfeited to the state. The attorney general has 3 years to enforce that forfeiture. The AG monitors AFIDA reports biannually to look for violations.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.
    The attorney general enforces this law. Failing to file can incur a fine of up to $1000.

  14. mike from iowa 2022-07-14

    Farmland adjacent to my half mile line fence (I do not own it) sold yesterday….

    80 acres m/l O’Brien County, IA – Highland Township
    Selling Price: $20,100/acre

    Sale Date: Tuesday, July 12, 2022 10:00 AM

    Sale Location: Primghar Community Building, 215 1st St SE, Primghar, IA

    The farm across the road to the north sold last year for 19.1K per acre. I have not heard who bought it, but a good guess would be a land speculator with a local front.

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