CA bill that could ban foreign governments from buying farmland passes Agriculture Committee

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STATEWIDE – Senator Melissa Hurtado’s (D – Bakersfield)  Senate Bill 224, passed the Senate Agriculture Committee, April 24. The bill could prohibit foreign governments from buying California farm land and require state reporting for foreign owned land. 

According to a 2021 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, foreign investors own 2.8% of California farmland. In San Bernardino County, foreign investors reported owning 7,209 acres.

The bill would prohibit a foreign government from purchasing, acquiring, leasing, or holding a controlling interest in agricultural land within the state. Foreign governments holding land before January 1, 2024, are exempt.

“The agricultural land in California that produces one-third of our country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts is invaluable to our state’s GDP,” said Senator Hurtado. “I thank my Senate Agriculture members for their support of the Farm and Food Security Act, and for recognizing the imperative need to secure our food systems. 

Reporting

Hurtado says the bill is a central part of getting data to have a better understanding of the role foreign governments play in energy, water facilities and agricultural land.

The U.S. Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act requires foreign investors who acquire, transfer or hold an interest in U.S. agricultural land to report to the Secretary of Agriculture. Current state law does not require agricultural land purchases to make the same disclosures to state agencies. 

Hurtado says this leaves an information gap in a critical sector of the state’s economy and security.

Senate Bill 224 would require the California Office of Emergency Services to compile an annual report. The report would contain, among other information, the total amount of agricultural land that is under foreign ownership. The office will publish the report on its website by December 31, 2024, and by March 31 every year thereafter.

Opponents of the Senate Bill 224

A critic of the measure says there could have consequences if passed.

“One of the concerns is, if we stop allowing those investments into California, will it just stop with investments or will it spread to the actual commodities won’t be able to be sold, or there’ll be retaliatory trade efforts,” said California Seed Association member Dennis Albiani.

A similar measure, the 2022 Food and Farm Security Act passed in both the Assembly and Senate, but was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom. The bill, also authored by Hurtado listed the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) as the reporting agency.

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“The additional data reporting required by this bill is beyond CDFA’s purview and would create new and arduous responsibilities for the department. For these reasons, I cannot sign this bill,” wrote Newsom.

The Committee on Appropriations is set to hear Senate Bill 224 May 1, 2023.

To read the full Senate Bill 224 visit https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240SB224

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