Booker Introduces Legislation to Protect Farmland from Corporate Consolidation

Booker Introduces Legislation to Protect Farmland from Corporate Consolidation

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Farmland for Farmers Act, legislation that would address rising rates of corporate farmland investment by limiting future ownership and leasing by corporate investors to ensure that farmland in the United States stays in the hands of farmers.

 

Farmland ownership has long been a source of wealth and power in rural America. However, as large corporations continue to gobble up agricultural land as part of their investment strategy, family farmers are forced out of business and rural communities are hollowed out. The number of institutionally owned properties rose three-fold from 2009 to 2022, and the market value of that property increased from less than $2 billion dollars to over $14 billion in the same time period.

 

The legislation would address several issues within our agriculture sector:

 

  • Protecting Rural Communities: With over 400 million acres of U.S. farmland projected to change hands in the next decade, the bill would take a stand against corporate consolidation that threatens rural communities’ autonomy. If farmland continues to fall under corporate control, it could shut down thousands of family farms and small businesses, eliminate opportunities to live in rural communities, and erode essential public and social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.
  • Curbing Speculative Investments: The bill would prevent corporations and hedge funds from treating farmland as a speculative investment to mitigate market volatility. Rising farmland prices have created challenges for small and beginning farmers to access land, leading to the unfair advantage of corporate interests over independent family farmers.
  • Bringing Transparency in Land Ownership: Corporations use multi-level subsidiary structures to conceal their investments in farmland. The legislation would bring transparency to land ownership.
  • Strengthening Federal Land Policies: The bill would address the lack of existing federal oversight, as Wall Street investment in farmland soars and the market becomes more nationalized. Through meaningful reforms, the bill would tackle concerns related to national security, economic competition, domestic food security, and the vitality of farm communities.
  • Ensuring Fair Allocation of Farm Programs: Federal agricultural programs are a vital safety net for farmers, but today are being misused by corporate investors to reduce the risk of owning American farmland. The bill would ensure that public farm programs can no longer be utilized by corporate investors, and instead prioritize independent farmers who form the backbone of the farm sector.

 

“We must protect farmland from becoming an investment strategy for huge corporations and ensure independent family farmers are not locked out of opportunities to thrive,” said Senator Booker. “This legislation is a crucial step in safeguarding rural America by ensuring that farmland remains in the hands of family farmers and is easier to acquire for those who dream of farming. For our domestic food security and the strength of our economy, we should prioritize the autonomy of rural communities and end speculative corporate investments that drive small farms out of business.” 

“The best means of caring for the land, protecting the environment and promoting vibrant rural communities is to put policies in place that keep more farmers on the land and provide pathways that give young farmers and under-served groups access to land. The commodification of farmland by corporate investors undercuts these goals, driving consolidation in the food system. We need landowners who are farmers and a part of their community, not corporate landowners who see farmland as nothing more than an investment. Senator Booker’s Farmland for Farmers Act is a groundbreaking federal policy that will keep farmland in the hands of those who work and love the land. We call on our Congressional leaders to support this effort in the 2023 Farm Bill,” said Jim Goodman, National Family Farm Coalition Board President.

“The United States is in the midst of a historic transition of agricultural land—nearly half of farmland will change hands over the next two decades. At the same time, land access is the number one challenge the next generation of farmers face. Speculative investment in land is directly and negatively impacting the ability of young and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) farmers to compete in agricultural real estate markets to gain the security they need,” said Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Policy Director with the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The Farmland for Farmers Act is a thoughtful and necessary policy response to this trend. At Young Farmers, we are committed to ensuring a just agricultural future for a new generation of working farmers. We believe that public policy has shaped land use and our food system and policies like this one are part of the bold, systemic change required to tackle its interconnected challenges.”

 

“We, as Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA NJ) applaud and support Senator Booker’s Farmland for Farmers Act of 2023. We believe the Act will give further legal basis and footing to update and strengthen existing state statutes, laws and reporting on corporate and foreign ownership and encourage more states to adopt laws. Protecting community family farm ownership of farmland is paramount for all the diverse types of next generation farmers whether from a family farm or setting out on their own quest,” said Cali Alexander, NOFA NJ Board Policy Chair.

 

“Concentrated land ownership is one of the root causes of inequality in rural communities and beyond, and growing financial investments in farmland will only make this issue worse. Restricting corporate and investor control over farmland is essential to creating a democratic, and community-controlled food system,” said Barry Lynn, Executive Director, Open Markets Institute.

 

Specifically, the Farmland for Farmers Act would:

 

  • Restrict corporations, multilayered subsidiaries, pension funds and investment funds from purchasing or leasing agricultural land. These types of corporations would be allowed to continue owning farmland they already own, but these corporate owners would not have future access to USDA and Farm Credit System programs and benefits, which should not be used to underwrite speculative corporate farmland investments.
  • Not apply to corporations with 25 or fewer shareholders, partners, members, or beneficial owners who are all actively engaged in farming; non-profit corporations; farmer cooperatives; or to farmland owned by a legal entity formed by owners of heirs’ property.
  • Strengthen State authority to regulate corporations, both domestic and foreign, involved in farmland ownership.
  • Authorize imposition of penalties on corporate entities that violate ownership restrictions.

 

The legislation is endorsed by the following organizations: Action Aid USA, American Grassfed Association, American Sustainable Business Network, Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, Dakota Resource Council, Farm Action Fund, Farm Aid, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Food & Water Watch, HEAL Food Alliance, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Land Loss Prevention Project, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, National Family Farm Coalition, National Young Farmers Coalition, Nebraska Communities United, Northeast Organic Farming Association – New Jersey, Open Markets Institute, Pennsylvania Farmers Union, R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America), Rural Advancement Foundation International–USA, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Wisconsin Farmers Union.

 

The full text of the bill can be found here.

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