The Senate Agriculture Committee approved legislation yesterday that would require foreign investors to report all purchases or long-term leases of American farmland to the secretary of agriculture.
The measure, approved for Senate consideration without opposition, was introduced last May by Sen. Herman E. Talmadge (D-Ga.) in response to what he called "serious questions of national policy" about reports of extensive and growing foreign investment in U.S. agricultural land [WORD ILLEGIBLE] for [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Hearings on the subject by a House Agriculture subcommittee last month resulted in a nearly identical bill, which the full committee is expected to act on this week. A committee staff member said the House legislation has 80 cosponsors and no apparent opposition.
The efforts to keep track of foreign investment in U.S. farmland were sparked by numerous press reports, beginning in late 1977. that huge tracts of land were being sold to foreign-based corporations.
The aliens' ownership is a potential threat to future U.S. food-growing policies, a factor in rising farmland prices and a risk to the traditional family-owned farm, witnesses said at the House subcommittee hearing.
Although the Department of Agriculture estimates that no more than 1 percent of American farmland is foreign owned, a General Accounting Office report, requested by Talmadge last January, found the percentage was 6.3 percent in one Georgia county.
The subsequent revelation that no government agency had substantial information on the extent of the foreign holdings led to the bills to require federal recording of transfers.
The Senate measure would require current owners to report to the agriculture secretary their holdings within six months after the law takes effect, and future purchasers to report within 30 days. Failure to report could result in civil penalties of up to 25 percent of the fair market value of the land.
The bill also calls for an Agriculture Department report to the president and Congress on the extent of the holdings and an assessment of their potential impact on the U.S. economy and agricultural industry.
No floor action has been scheduled on the bills in either house. If passed the legislation would be in effect for three years beginning Oct. 1.