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North Dakota joins movement to ban foreign ownership of farmland

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Mike Moen

(Prairie News Service) A pair of new North Dakota laws go into effect today that ban foreign entities from buying up land in the state. Advocates for smaller farmers see it as a worthwhile effort in protecting their interests. One law prohibits land ownership by nations or businesses in those countries deemed foreign adversaries under certain federal rules. The other law deals specifically with farmland, blocking foreign governments from acquiring it. Policy researchers say there's more scrutiny due to ownership trends in agriculture. 

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Matt Perdue, government relations director of the North Dakota Farmers Union, said his organization would rather see farmland stay in the hands of family farmers and ranchers based in the state.

"I wouldn't say that it has become a major issue in North Dakota, but when you look nationwide, you are seeing a growing interest by foreign companies and foreign governments owning agricultural land," he contended. 

For example, the USDA says China's agricultural investment outside its borders has grown more than tenfold in less than a decade. For the law dealing with agriculture, there are exceptions, including Canadians who want to buy North Dakota farmland. The state's agriculture commissioner cited some concerns about these restrictions, including the potential impact on agribusiness opportunities. 

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There are much bigger issues at play, Perdue and other supporters said. They note that foreign ownership of farmland could open the door to national security issues. He said it is better to get ahead of any situation like that. 

"We are committed to providing an affordable, abundant food supply, for our nation and for a growing world. And so, I think there's a lot of thoughtful conversations that need to be had on how to best address this issue," he explained. 

More broadly, some federal lawmakers have cited how the war between Russia and Ukraine has affected sources like natural gas. Meanwhile, North Dakota's recent policy action stemmed from a proposed corn-milling plant in Grand Forks by a Chinese firm. That project was eventually canceled by city leaders.