Land Survey Reveals Limited Foreign Ownership in Iowa

Market to Market | Clip
Jun 23, 2023 | 3 min

Microsoft-founder Bill Gates has made land purchases in the U.S. prioritizing land and water conservation.

One Arkansas billionaire is creating joint ventures with local farmers to create agricultural corporations that may be subject to fewer legal and tax restrictions.

The Mormon Church owns at least 22,000 acres of Iowa farmland.

A recent land survey in Iowa looked at sales and the financing behind them as David Miller reports.



High profile investors are making purchases of farm land, but according to the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act, only 3 percent of those owners are from outside the United States.

Dr. Wendong Zhang: “If we are looking at primary agricultural Corn Belt regions like Iowa, that we're only talking about less than, a little over 1% owned by, has any ownership rights that is by a foreign buyer, right.  And a lot of those are actually wind farms that has had  the leasing rights for the either have bought the easement rights or bought that land for East for wind turbine development, or they have the leasing rights.”

Cornell University professor Dr. Wendong Zhang led a survey conducted by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development which is housed at Iowa State University.   

According to the recently released research, new land owners from outside the U.S. are buying property not typically used for corn or soybean production. 

Dr. Wendong Zhang, Cornell University: And if you're looking at the reported data that the ownership statistics, by the Chinese buyers it is very low, that if you're looking at even the more recent purchases, that China is not even the top 10. So the dominant buyers, the top buyer is Canada, and the top categories are often forest land or pasture. So they don't necessarily are in the in the area of Iowa and think that the they're more smoke than then that then value in reading into how the land market is significantly impacted.

Zhang said one Chinese investor purchased more than 100,000 acres in Texas. That purchase doubled the entire Chinese holdings acquired over the last decade. 

The Farmland Act, legislation designed to stop foreign ownership of U.S. land, was introduced this week by a bipartisan coalition from the Senate Agriculture Committee. Senators Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, and Joni Ernst, a Republican, want to amend the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act by  adding a review of any land purchased or leased over the last three years that has a value of over $5 million or is 320 acres in size. The Act could be part of the next Farm Bill now under construction on Capitol Hill.   

Dr. Wendong Zhang, Cornell University: “But overall, if you're looking into Iowa land value survey that from the ag professionals and from the landowners in general we find that over 70% of the land are bought by local existing farmers and even a 25% of the investors are probably half of the investors are retired farmers. It's not necessarily the the foreign buyer that is that is driving the land market.”

For Market to Market, I’m David Miller.