February 26, 2024

Missouri director of ag offers different perspective on China

Chris Chinn

DECATUR, Ill. — Sitting in a large tent sponsored by Syngenta, their company logo on the screen behind her, Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, offered up some food for thought on the current China challenge.

From legislation to ban China from purchasing or owning U.S. farmland to the U.S. House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, a committee formed in January, shortly after Republicans won a midterm majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, attention has been focused on China’s role in the United States, especially when it comes to U.S. agriculture.

In February, U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., introduced the Saving American Farms from Adversaries Act, a bill that would place a five-year moratorium on land purchases by foreign nationals.

Miller, who participated in the farm bill forum at the Farm Progress Show along with Chinn and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, claimed that farmers cannot afford to buy farmland due to foreign purchases.

“Other countries don’t allow massive buying up of their land and properties,” said Miller, after a question from reporter Chris Clayton of DTN, asking how the panelists deal with the rhetoric surrounding China and farmland, as well as the reality of Chinese-owned or connected agribusinesses, such as Syngenta and Smithfield Foods, an independent subsidiary of the WH Group, a Chinese conglomerate.

“For me, because I represent ag production and the family farm, one of the problems, and it’s not just China, it’s other countries, too, coming in and buying up our farm ground, farmers can’t even afford to buy farm ground any more.

“My bill that I have preventing what you’re talking about, the first thing we need to do is find out how much land is owned by foreign adversaries or foreign countries and also who they are. We need information first. Then I think we should stop the foreign ownership of our farm ground.”

Mary Miller

Chinn and her husband, Kevin, operate a 1,600-sow farrow-to-finish hog farm in Shelby County, Missouri, and also have a cow-calf herd. They raise corn, soybeans and hay.

“I think it’s a fine line to be balanced,” Chinn said.

Current law in Missouri limits ownership of land by foreign entities to 1% of the total acreage of land in the state.

In Missouri, as of Dec. 31, 2021, foreign-held agricultural land stood at 433,213 acres, 1.2% of all privately-held agricultural land, which was 36,030,837 acres.

That information, for every state in the United States, is publicly available through the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act. That act became federal law in 1978.

According to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, “regulations require foreign investors who acquire, transfer, or hold an interest in U.S. agricultural land to report such holdings and transactions to the secretary of agriculture on an AFIDA Report Form FSA-153.”

“We have a lot of foreign-owned companies that do commerce in our state, and if they disappear out of our state, it’s going to have negative impacts,” Chinn said.

“I know in our state, Smithfield does have a processing plant. They add a lot of value to our rural community. They buy a lot of grain from our farmers in the local area, so there is a trickle-down impact that they have to that local economy, in creating jobs and creating markets for our farming community.”

Chinn also pointed to the value of maintaining relationships around the world for when the United States is in need of food or feed.

“We have to remember, we live in a global economy today and there are times when one country may be having a severe drought, like we have had, and another country has a good crop,” she said.

“We need to be able to have the ability to import in the years when we don’t have the crops here to feed our livestock. So, there’s a very fine line there.”

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor