Monday, April 03, 2023

Sen. Lankford warns of Chinese-owned farmland in Oklahoma, files bill to protect agricultural land from foreign nationals

Lankford Pushes to Protect Oklahoma Farmland from Foreign Nationals

WASHINGTON, DC (March 30, 2023) – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today introduced the bipartisan Security and Oversight of International Landholdings (SOIL) Act, along with Senators Jim Risch (R-ID), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Michael Bennet (D-CO), in order to provide oversight and transparency of purchases of US agricultural land that threaten national security. On the heels of a successful rejection of allowing more marijuana growth in the state, Lankford continues to respond to concerns from Oklahomans about the multiple recent purchases of Oklahoma agricultural land by foreign entities.

“Our state overwhelming rejected ‘legalizing’ recreational marijuana earlier this month because we have seen firsthand how foreign criminal organizations exploit vulnerabilities in our law to destroy our families and communities for their profit,” said Lankford. “Every region of Oklahoma is concerned about foreign nationals buying up farmland. Our loose oversight has allowed transnational criminal organizations to partner with Chinese nationals to buy land and businesses throughout Oklahoma. This is a national security issue and a human rights issue. We need to know who is buying our land, how they are using it, and if any criminal activity is occurring.”

Oklahoma has over 7,000 licensed marijuana grows. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) believes that 2,000 of those farms have a Chinese connection. The marijuana market in Oklahoma has ushered in other serious crimes like human trafficking, forced labor, and money laundering.

“While there’s no question America has some of the best farmland in the world, it’s doubtful China is buying it up to plant more wheat and potatoes,” said Risch. “The SOIL Act will introduce stricter measures and oversight to prevent bad actors, like China and Russia, from purchasing our agricultural land—particularly land near US military installations.”

“Food security is national security, and it’s alarming how the Chinese Communist Party has been buying up American farmland as fast as they can,” said Tillis. “This commonsense legislation increases transparency and oversight on these purchases so we can protect both North Carolina farmers and the world’s most abundant food supply from our adversaries.”

“For too long, Washington has allowed foreign adversaries like China and Russia to buy up American farmland and its precious water resources while our family farmers and our economies became collateral damage. For the sake of American growers, farmers, and ranchers, we need to modernize and strengthen our tools to evaluate the risk of these foreign purchases on our supply chains and our national security,” said Bennet.


The SOIL Act deters criminal investment in US agriculture by:

  1. Requiring Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) review of agriculture real estate purchases by certain foreign entities
  2. Banning federal assistance for certain foreign-held real estate holdings
  3. Broadening disclosure requirements for land purchases made by foreign entities

Lankford Warns of Chinese-Owned Farmland in Oklahoma

WASHINGTON, DC (March 28th) – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor about the need to protect US farmland from foreign, particularly Chinese, ownership, after an alarming increase in foreign land ownership over the past decade in Oklahoma, which appears to be due in part to an increased presence of international criminal organizations surrounding marijuana growth in the state.

In 2022, Lankford first introduced the Security and Oversight of International Landholdings (SOIL) Act in order to provide oversight and transparency of purchases of US agricultural land that threaten national security. Lankford continues to respond to concerns from Oklahomans about the multiple recent purchases of Oklahoma agricultural land by foreign entities.

Previously, Lankford introduced an amendment to Democrats’ so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” that would end federal subsidies for farmland held by certain foreign entities. Lankford filed and spoke about an amendment during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing that would give Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Title 21 authority to investigate drug crimes. 


I wanted to be able to come back to this floor to be able to talk about the SOIL Act. The SOIL Act is a bill that I introduced last year that deals with Chinese ownership of land in the United States. Since I've introduced this bill, several of my colleagues here in this room have also introduced other bills that are similar to it. Good—that means people are paying attention to this and the conversation is starting.

I'm all for as many ideas as we can get out here on how to be able to solve this because the most basic principle that we have right now is if we miss an obvious trend that's happening here, it is to our economic peril. This chart has just a very simple number on it. In 2020 Chinese entities owned almost 200,000 acres of land in the United States. One year later they're at almost 400,000 acres in the United States—in one year. This is from 2020 to 2021. This trend is happening all over the country and we're certainly seeing it in my state in Oklahoma. When I travel around my state I hear people talking about the border, I hear people talk about the economy, and I often will hear people say, ‘Hey there's a lot of foreign ownership going into land right now in Oklahoma.’ And it's dramatically affecting the price of real estate the price of agricultural land but also what's happening on that land.

Now my state may be a little bit different than some others, or it may be the same thing happening in your state. About half a decade ago my state did medical marijuana legalization in my state. It was a decision of the voters in my state to be able to say they want to get access to medical marijuana for those that needed it.

The problem is the Chinese entities and Chinese criminal organizations and Mexican cartels immediately flooded the market in our state, and we've seen a rapid rise in marijuana in our state, much of it done in the illegal market. It's not just happening for the “medical side” in our state. It's being distributed all over the country from my state.

It was just a few months ago that I was looking on different worldwide news sources and was shocked to be able to see in the BBC News headlines for that day a story about my state on the global news headlines about a group of Chinese nationals that were shot execution-style in a grow operation in Oklahoma. The individual who executed them was on the run and then was arrested in Florida a couple of days later, also a Chinese national.

Chinese criminal organizations have moved into my state in mass numbers. The year after marijuana was legalized in my state for “medical purposes,” we had more land sales to foreign entities in Oklahoma than any other state in America as Chinese criminal organizations and Mexican cartels immediately moved in to be able to set up shop in distribution nationwide.

Many people said, ‘I didn't think it was legal for foreign entities to be able to own land in the United States.’ Well, there's a gap actually in our law, and it's an issue that I want us to be able to deal with on how we're going to challenge this issue.

Let me give you just another perspective, beyond just the Chinese side of things, another perspective on this.

Ten years ago, 321,000 acres in Oklahoma were owned by a foreign entity—ten years ago. Today, it's 1.67 million acres in my state are owned by foreign entity—from 321,000 to 1.67 million acres.

There's a rapid transition that's happening where foreign entities are rapidly buying up land, and I would tell you if you're a farmer and rancher, they would say there are some things that God's just not making more of and one of them is land. You can't just give that up.

This is a problem, and it's a problem nationally. It's not just a problem in the marijuana industry; it's a problem nationally.

It's a problem dealing quite frankly with our national security. We currently have a one-mile buffer around all of our military installations that you can't own land if you're a foreign entity within one mile around our military installations. We now believe that's not near enough, and quite frankly foreign nationals from many countries like China buying up the land around our critical infrastructure, around our telecom infrastructure, around military bases, around government offices.

They're not buying it because they're looking for another place to invest. They're buying it to set up shop for their own operations and their own spying and their own control of our economy.

We should pay attention to this.

Now as we deal with different entities like data or healthcare entities they have to go through a process. It's called the CFIUS process. That process is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The abbreviation you'll hear for Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is called CFIUS.

That process includes entities like the Treasury, Commerce, Defense, the intelligence community, all have to be involved if a foreign entity wants to be able to buy let's say a telecom company, or they want to buy a lot of big data around a hospital whatever it may be it has to go through that process on that.

Agricultural land is not in that though. There is no review for that. So there is no prioritization for foreign investments of our land even where it is. So this has become an out of sight out of mind issue.

So the bill that I have called the SOIL Act this does a mandatory review of CFIUS of that process the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States for agricultural land in the entity that is in two categories: if there are national security threat that country is a national security threat or they're what's called a non-market economy. 

Let me explain what those two things are.

The national security threat's pretty straightforward. That's China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. If China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea want to buy land right on the edge of one of our military bases right outside that one-mile buffer, if they're wanting to buy up lots of land around our critical infrastructure and telecom, it's not for our good. We should have a review of that.

The second thing is the non-market economy. This is an economy that is run by the government not by private business. Again China would fall squarely into this as a communist nation. You cannot run an investment business, you cannot run, especially a foreign entity, outside of China without it running through the Communist Party in China. So they're a non-market economy.

So the most basic part about this is, if you're going to buy any kind of land in the United States and you're from one of those countries that’s a non-market economy or that is a national security threat, we should have a mandatory review of that. So they could actually do that kind of purchase, but we just want to know why, where, how much, what's the purpose of this, and we can ask those practical questions of it.

The SOIL Act that I have also tries to close some of the loopholes that are in our federal law. Let me talk through a couple of those. Currently we have a foreign entity, let's say a Chinese entity, that's doing an ag purpose there, they would still be available for agricultural subsidies in the United States. Well that needs to be closed. We shouldn't do agricultural subsidies for any entity that’s a foreign entity coming into the United States and doing investment.

So it closes that loophole. It closes all the disclosure loopholes dealing with agricultural land holdings. Right now you if you have a land holding that is around 10 acres, then you don't have to disclose it. Well a lot of these operations are less than 10 acres, and there's a lot that you can do on 10 acres, if that 10 acres also happens to be right on our critical infrastructure, right in our telecom, or maybe that's also doing a criminal operation.

Also this deals with issues of long-term leases. Entities would come in, foreign entities would come in and say, ‘Well we're not really buying the land, we're just doing a 99-year lease.’ Well that's the equivalent of actually owning the land, and so it gets around that loophole.

It also beefs up our enforcement for those who violate our foreign investment laws, and it also requires annual reporting for China and Russia in particular.

Listen, I'm not trying to stop an investment into the country. BMW wants to be able to come do manufacturing here in the United States for their cars or Nissan or any number of manufacturing products that are here from all over the world, they're welcome to be here. They're welcome to be able to do foreign investment, but when Iran is buying up a big chunk of land, we should ask the question why they're doing that. And currently we don't even have a process to do that. When China's snapping up land by the hundreds of thousands of acres, we should ask the question why is China buying hundreds of thousands of acres of American land all of a sudden? What is the goal? We should ask that question, and currently we don't have a process to do that, so let's fix that. The SOIL Act gets on top of that issue, and says we see the trend let's not just watch this go sideways. Let's actually engage, and let's protect our national security. And let's protect our national interests.

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