Nonresident and Nonfarm Operator Ownership of Farmland

CED-80-125: Published: Aug 6, 1980. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 1980.

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GAO was asked to investigate the question of nonresident and nonfarm operator ownership of farmland. Specifically, GAO was to review the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Bureau of Census reports on the ownership and control of farmland in the United States.

In its review of the USDA report, GAO examined the Economics, Statistics, and Cooperative Service's methodology for compiling data on farm real estate transfers published in the USDA report. However, because of the survey design, it was not possible to say whether the reported statistics are accurate for a specific period of time. Additionally, the survey design does not incorporate a data confidence level and a desired precision level. Nor do the sampling procedures require that the sampling universe be completely identified and that a selection procedure be used in which each member of the universe has a known probability of being selected. Other data used in the reports on farmland purchases nationwide were provided by the Bureau of the Census and the U.S. landownership survey compiled by USDA. Inquiries indicated that the Bureau of Census data do not provide information on all farmland owners since its data deal only with farmland owned by farm operators and does not provide data on farmland owned by others. Also, the USDA survey did not identify any USDA data that relate trends in the cost of farmland to trends in farmland ownership. Thus, GAO was unable to determine how serious a problem nonfarmownership of farmland is compared to foreign ownership. According to the USDA landownership survey, about 23 percent of the privately owned land in the United States is owned by persons living outside the county where the land is located. About .03 percent is owned by persons living outside the country.

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