During the latest leg of her national book tour last week, Kristi Noem lied on Newsmax about South Dakota’s acceptance of expanded federal unemployment benefits during the pandemic. She also fibbed a bit when she tried to portray South Dakota as a role model in protecting farmland and food production from the Red Menace:
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem told Newsmax Thursday that reports of China buying farmland in the United States is cause for concern because the communist nation will “control us if they control what goes in our grocery stores.”
“There are limitations in [South Dakota] state law as to how much they can buy, and I think that’s very wise and something every state should be looking at,” Noem said during an appearance on Newsmax’s “The Record With Greta Van Susteren.” “I think that, even in this discussion that we are having right now, South Dakota will be continuing to restrict the ability of foreign countries to come and buy up our land, buy into our companies” [Nicole Wells, “Gov. Kristi Noem to Newsmax: China ‘Will Control Us’ If They Control Our Food Supply,” Newsmax, 2022.07.28].
First off, as I reported in May, as of the end of 2020, China owned less than 1% of foreign-held agricultural land and increased its U.S. farmland holdings that year by only 2,527 acres, the equivalent of less than two average farms in South Dakota. 16 other countries own more U.S. agricultural acres than China.
Second, South Dakota is not leading the way in resisting foreign acquisition of agricultural land. Again, as I reported in May, under Kristi Noem’s watch, in 2020, foreign ag land holdings increased 16% in South Dakota, while nationwide, foreign ag land holdings increased just under 7%.
Third, states are looking to restrict foreign ownership of the means of food production should not be looking at South Dakota as a role model. We spent over a decade promoting foreign investment in factory feedlots and meat production facilities through the EB-5 visa program and happily let Chinese investors sink millions of dollars into those agricultural projects. During the pandemic, Noem’s administration worked hand in glove with Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods to make sure the CDC didn’t get in the way of Chinese wiener-making and profit-taking. If South Dakota were serious about preventing the Chinese from getting their hooks into our meat, we’d cancel Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods’ deed to its Sioux Falls slaughterhouse and hand it to Luke Minion and Wholestone Farms (hey! that would solve a couple of problems!) Instead, we have Kristi Noem’s campaign chairman bankrolling a campaign led by a faithful SDGOP lobbyist to protect the Chinese meatpacker from local competition.
Kristi Noem sounds concerned about foreign ownership of farmland when she’s on TV in Washington, D.C. But she’s not doing anything about it when she’s back here in South Dakota.
Related Regulatory Reading: Chinese and other foreign investors may own more farmland than we know, but to find the full tally, we’d need to tighten up reporting and regulations. The USDA’s figures on foreign ownership depend on self-reporting under the Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act. Individuals wanting to check that data against local records will have to sift through all sorts of mostly opaque corporate names and filings, which in South Dakota need not give any information about who actually owns any given property.