Committee holds hearing on foreign-owned land in Nebraska, mulls changes
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - It’s an issue that hits close to home for many farmers and ranchers across the state: Who exactly is working the land next door?
Back in 1889, Nebraska passed a law limiting foreign ownership and leases of land, but today at a public hearing on an interim study, legislators asked if the law on the books goes far enough to rein in foreign powers, especially as tensions between the United States and China rise.
A federal report shows about 1.7% of all farm and ranch property in the state is foreign owned, but largely that’s not out in rolling corn fields. Foreign investment mostly comes into play on wind and solar farms, and that’s usually leasing, not owning. Right now, experts said that shouldn’t raise the alarm.
“There are no big numbers to suggest that we have any obvious economic impacts or concerns at this point,” said Brad Lubben, agricultural economist.
State Senator Steve Halloran, the Agriculture Committee chair, noted the vast majority of foreign ownership comes from U.S. allies. China comes in 18th.
“My concern is primarily to look at preventing a future problem with foreign ownership or investors in farm land,” Halloran said. “I don’t want it to become something that in the future people will look back and say, ‘We should have done something.’”
Halloran said it’s worth looking into a law that dates back more than 130 years, giving a largely toothless artifact some staying power.
“You can have all the laws on the books, but if you don’t have a sheriff enforcing them, then you have a problem,” Halloran said. “We need to look at the enforcement side of our laws.”
At issue for many farmers and some attendees of Friday’s hearing, like Edison McDonald, is large-scale ownership in general. For corporations and foreign powers, strategic goals can matter more than land and nearby community.
“If you’re focused on the next quarter, you may go and really over-work that land and not have a real long-term thought process about that sustainability,” McDonald said.
Halloran said he plans to pursue legislation on foreign land ownership in the upcoming legislative session.
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