West German, British, Canadian and other foreign investors own more than 50,000 acres of farmland in Virginia, including tracts in Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier counties, according to federal and state officials.
Although the foreign-owned farmland is worth millions of dollars, it represents less than 1 percent of the 9.7 million acres of agricultural land in Virginia, officials said.
These findings -- part of a new national survey of foreign investment in American farmland -- appear to bear out conclusions of earlier studies. Government officials have previously said that foreign investors own a tiny percentage of U.S. farmland and that Europeans are among the major foreign owners.
Wednesday was the deadline for foreign investors to report their holdings in American farming, forestry and timberland under legislation passed by Congress last year. Federal and state officials compiled a preliminary tabulation of the reports filed in Virginia because of similar legislation enacted by the 1979 session of the state General Assembly.
No statewide statistic were available yesterday for Maryland, although officials said one foreign-owned landholding was reported in Montgomery County. It was described as a 355-acre tract, valued at about $2.2 million and owned by an Iranian citizen, Hassan Nemazee. Officials and most foreign-owned farmland in Maryland appeared to be located on the Eastern Shore.
Federal officials said the Agriculture Department is not expected to complete an analysis of the new nationwide reports of foreign investments for some time. No agricultural holdings were reported in the District of Columbia, officials said.
Some U.S. officials have expressed concern in recent years about purchases of American farmland by foreign investors lured by the declining value of the American dollar, the stability of the American farmland market, tax advantages and political and other factors.
Iowa recently passed a law prohibiting foreigners from buying land for farming, and many other states have restricted foreign investment in agricultural land. Virginia Del. David G.
Brickley (D-Prince William), the chief sponsor of the state's foreign investment disclosure measure, said yesterday that his aim was solely to collect information and not to bar foreign ownership of Virginia farmland.
Larry Neal, a federal agriculture official in Richmond, said that reports filed by midday yesterday listed 40,600 acres of foreign-owned Virginia farmland. More than 10,000 acres of additional foreign holdings are certain to be included in reports filed within the next few days, he said. The Agriculture Department has promised leniency for those who missed Wednesday's filing deadline.
The foreign owners of Virginia farmland include West Germany, British, French, Italian, Belgian, Swiss, Canadian, Filipino, Venezualan, Argentinian and Panamanian investors. The largest foreign holding listed near Washington was a 1,367-acre tract in Fauquier County, owned by a Belgian firm and valued at $3.2 million.
Under federal regulations, the recent $5 million purchases of entertainer Arthur Godfrey's estate near Leesburg by a netherlands Antilles corporation backed by a Saudi Arabian prince will not have to be reported until late next month.