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  February 20th, 2024 | Written by

Who Are the Largest Foreign Land Investors in the United States? 

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The United States is a relatively open market for business. In terms of size, the country is the fourth largest by area in the world and outside investors have a range of investment choices covering pastureland, forestland, or cropland. Foreign investment in US land is on the rise but global tensions have moved the conversation from how much land is open to foreign investors to just exactly who is purchasing US land, and why. 

The USDA’s latest data (as of 2021) reports just north of 40 million acres of US agricultural land owned by foreign companies and investors. Canadian investors are the largest foreign land owners and combined with the Netherlands, Italy, the UK, and Germany, the five account for half of all agricultural land owned by foreign entities. 

The US numbers 3,142 counties and parishes and 79% have at least one foreign investor in their county or parish. Maine is an outlier with a surprising 20% of the state’s privately held agricultural land in the hands of foreign investors. Hawaii is second with 9.2% of the island’s land held by foreign actors. In terms of the type of land foreign investors covet, nearly half (48%) in 2021 was forestland followed by 29% of cropland, 18% of pastureland, and 5% of non-agricultural land such as worker or owner housing.  


Perhaps the biggest concern surrounding foreign agricultural land ownership in the US centers on China. The latest USDA data points to China being the 18th largest ag-land owner which amounts to 383,000 acres. To put this into context, the total area would be one-third of the size of Rhode Island. In terms of the states Chinese investors have targeted, Texas is number one by a large margin, covering half of China’s investments. North Carolina comes in second with 13% followed by Missouri (11%), Utah (9%), and the remaining 17% scattered rather equally across 24 distinct states. 

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) investigates acquisitions or mergers that could result in a US business or asset coming under foreign control. The Texas Chinese holding is the largest parcel owned by a Chinese investor in the United States. It was purchased with the intent of constructing a wind farm but a Texas law that prevents foreign entities from accessing the state’s electricity grid halted the project.  

Overall, Chinese investment coupled with what the US deems adversarial nations – Venezuela, the Russian Federation, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Cuba, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) among others – remains small. But the USDA and CFIUS do acknowledge that a better understanding of investor motives and data collection is solely lacking.