Should foreign countries own land in North Dakota?

by Emmery Mehlhoff, NDFB Public Policy Liaison

Emmery Mehlhoff hosts NDFB’s podcast Straight Talk with NDFB. Straight Talk’s newest season focuses on North Dakota’s 68th Legislative Session. During this season, Emmery visits with legislators about how the laws they are creating will affect agriculture in North Dakota. 

In my most recent conversation for Straight Talk, I visited with Senator Bob Paulson, a retired Navy Pilot, about his bill relating to foreign adversaries owning land in North Dakota.

Our conversation sparked thoughts about land ownership, private property, and what it means to protect North Dakota’s food security. 

Emmery and her husband walk through a field near their farm.

I discovered 3.1% of our land is owned by foreign entities or persons. Many of these countries are friendly to the United States. We also own land in several of their countries. 

But what does it mean if our adversaries start buying up our land? 

That is what Senator Paulson and I discussed pertaining to his bill SB 2371.


The following excerpt conversation from the Straight Talk podcast has been edited for clarity. 

Emmery:  You mentioned how foreign adversaries owning our land is a national security concern. You also mentioned how it could affect our food security. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Sen. Paulson: Sure. I think there are a lot of indicators by different folks buying up farmland around the country and then beginning to talk about how we need to eat, for lack of a better term, manufactured meat. There is a push to replace animals with something artificial. I have a lot of concerns over that. I would not want to be in a position where someone owned enough of our agricultural land, either in North Dakota or in our country where they said, “This is what you’re going to eat, and we’re in control of that.” I would rather see a lot of small farms feeding themselves and their local areas as opposed to these organizations that obviously, if they’re a foreign adversary, do not have our best interest in mind. I certainly don’t want them controlling our access to food.

Emmery: We see a global shift in our food production and it looks cheap and efficient. It’s like, “Why shouldn’t the people who are the best and fastest at something be in charge of making it?” But when issues like COVID come up, you might stop and wonder what our food chain looks like and what’s at stake.

Sen. Paulson: I think that opened our eyes to a whole bunch of things.

Emmery: Do you have any thoughts on Chinese ownership of a significant portion of our pork industry? 

Sen. Paulson: My main concern would be if the percentage of ownership meant they controlled what we’re able to buy in the store. We want investment in North Dakota, and if that comes from a foreign source and it’s helpful to North Dakota citizens, I’m okay with that as long as we’re careful it doesn’t get to the point where they get to call the shots on what we eat.

Emmery: I like the clarification that you’re making; the difference between the investment of money and land ownership. America was built on private property ownership. The thing that makes the United States so great is that you can own property and you can produce something for yourself. Land ownership is directly tied to who controls the means of production. We should protect that. 


Listen to the entire conversation here.

Find the full report of Foreign Ownership of U.S. Agricultural Land here.


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