State House passes land ownership bill

Measure would limit Chinese entities

Jose Ramires with Brantley Farms plants soybeans in a field along Arkansas 256 in Jefferson County near the community of Wright in this June 8, 2015 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

A bill that cleared the state House of Representatives on Thursday would bar entities connected with the People's Republic of China from owning agricultural land in Arkansas.

House Bill 1479 proposes barring a governmental entity, company or other entity either based in the People's Republic of China or directly or indirectly held or controlled by China's government from acquiring or purchasing agricultural land in Arkansas.

The bill, filed Feb. 21, passed through the House Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development Committee before Thursday's vote; the bill now heads to the Senate Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development Committee.

The bill was submitted by Rep. Chad Puryear, R-Hindsville, who is a member of the House Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development Committee and was elected to the state Legislature for the first time in January, and it is co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Petty, R-Van Buren.

"Our constituents sent us to Little Rock with the expectation of having an America First attitude and protecting this great state for future generations and I think this bill is a good step in doing that," Puryear said before House members on Thursday.

Entities affiliated with China would essentially not be able to acquire legal title to agricultural land in Arkansas, Puryear said at a House Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee meeting on March 1.

[DOCUMENT: Read the bill on state land purchases »]

"The title companies would essentially catch this during the transfer of ownership and that will halt titles," Puryear said at that meeting.

The bill states the attorney general may issue subpoenas for suspected violations, and if it is determined a violation has occurred, the attorney general could order the entity affiliated with China to "divest itself of all interest" in the agricultural land in Arkansas within 90 days; if the entity does not comply, the attorney general could take action in circuit court in the jurisdiction of the land in question, according to the bill.

If the case is not dismissed, a circuit court could order the agricultural land be sold via judicial foreclosure, the bill says.

Foreign ownership and investments in U.S. agricultural land increased to more than 40 million acres by 2021; Arkansas has more than 1 million foreign-owned acres of agricultural land, according to Congress' Foreign Ownership and Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land report released in January.

China owned 383,935 acres of farmland in the United States by the end of 2021, which is less than 1% of all foreign-owned acres.

"Basically, Arkansas doesn't need to add to this total," Puryear said at the March 1 meeting.

There are approximately 14 states with laws restricting foreign ownership of agricultural land to some degree, according to the National Agricultural Law Center's website.

In the Southeast region, Mississippi and Missouri have laws restricting or prohibiting foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land, per the NALC's website.

Senate Bill 312 enacted into law in Arkansas in 2021 is a reporting requirement law that requires certain foreign investors to submit copies of federal Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) reports, which they already submit to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to the secretary of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.

AFIDA is a federal statute passed by Congress in 1978 that requires some foreign investors to disclose their agricultural landholdings in the U.S.

The federal government currently monitors some foreign acquisitions and landholdings in U.S. farmland, but there are no federal laws restricting foreign entities or people from acquiring American farmland, though a few proposals to change this were introduced to Congress over the last three years, per the NALC's website.

Kentucky is considering a similar measure this year to restrict certain foreign people or businesses from acquiring farmland in the state via House Bill 500; the bill aims to restrict foreign parties from taking part in programs administered by the state Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Development Board, or the Kentucky Finance Corporation, according to the Center's website.