Foreign Investment in U.S. Agricultural Land--How It Shapes Up

CED-79-114: Published: Jul 30, 1979. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 1979.

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An analysis was made of agricultural land purchases from January 1977 through June 1978 in 148 counties in 10 States: Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.

Of the 3 million acres purchased, it was found that 248,146 acres, or about 8 percent, were bought in 55 counties by 173 foreign purchasers from at least 30 countries. Most of the foreign purchasers were from the Netherlands Antilles, Belgium, West Germany, France, and Switzerland. The activity appeared to be concentrated in certain counties; nine counties, each having foreign purchases totaling more than 5,000 acres, accounted for 163,257 acres of the 248,146 acres of foreign purchases. These counties were Jefferson (Arkansas); Fresno, Kern, and San Joaquin (California); Hall (Georgia); Rosebud and Yellowstone (Montana); Bowie (Texas); and Kittitas (Washington). Foreign investors who buy U.S. real property have U.S. tax advantages involving primarily capital gains that are not available to U.S. citizens who may wish to invest in that same property. Foreign investment bears watching, GAO believes, and it would be beneficial to eliminate the tax advantage to foreign investors. GAO found that most foreign-bought land was bought by Western Europeans for investment security and capital preservation and appreciation; most has continued in its same use; and some property improvements have been made. Nonlocal U.S. and foreign businesses bought 24 percent of the land in the counties reviewed; GAO believed that this fact indicates that the Department of Agriculture should be concerned about erosion of the U.S. family farm structure.

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