Young, Ernst unveil bipartisan bill to bolster USDA info collection

U.S. Sens. Todd Young (R-IN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) on Jan. 25 introduced a bipartisan bill that would improve how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) collects and processes information about foreign ownership of agricultural land in America.

“This is an important national security issue on the minds of many Hoosiers, particularly in our Indiana agriculture community,” Sen. Young said. “As we seek to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to manipulate markets, this legislation will provide critical information and transparency to better protect our homeland.”

“Farmland is one of the most precious resources we have as Americans. As an Iowan, I’ve long fought to ensure that we can protect our food and ag systems from bad actors seeking to exploit loopholes,” said Sen. Ernst. “This critical effort will allow us to better scrutinize and track foreign land investments and ultimately safeguard our homeland.”

The lawmakers are two of 13 original cosponsors of the AFIDA Improvements Act of 2024, S. 3666, which is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) to amend the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) of 1978, which requires foreign persons who acquire, dispose of, or hold an interest in U.S. agricultural land to disclose those transactions to the USDA.

However, the USDA process for complying with AFIDA is ill-equipped to fully combat nefarious foreign ownership of American agricultural land by foreign adversaries, according to a report released on Jan. 18 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), entitled Foreign Investments in U.S. Agricultural Land: Enhancing Efforts to Collect, Track, and Share Key Information Could Better Identify National Security Risks.

If enacted, S. 3666 would take several actions to improve the USDA’s processes, drawn largely from recommendations from the GAO report.

For instance, the bill would require USDA to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to govern data sharing between USDA and CFIUS member agencies within one year of enactment, according to a summary provided by the lawmakers.

Among numerous other provisions, S. 3666 also would modernize the AFIDA Handbook; require USDA to develop and report to Congress a timeline to meet specific implementation benchmarks for an online AFIDA submission system and public database; and direct USDA to take any such necessary actions to validate foreign ownership data collected under AFIDA, the summary says.

“Most folks understand that food security is national security, and that our foreign adversaries wouldn’t hesitate to undermine our country by messing with our food supply,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), the bill’s lead original cosponsor. “We need policy changes to better track who is buying up our farmland and to crack down on bad actors like China who want to get a foothold on American soil.”

The legislation is supported by the Agribusiness Council of Indiana, the Indiana Corn Growers Association, and the Indiana Soybean Alliance.