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1.6 percent of U.S. agricultural land owned by foreigners

WILLMAR -- A new publication released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the latest information regarding the amount of U.S. agricultural land that is owned by foreign persons.

There is approximately 20.9 million acres of agricultural land in the United States. As of Feb. 28, 2008, foreigners had an ownership interest, either partial or whole, in 1.6 percent of all privately held agricultural land, and 0.92 percent of all land in the United States. This represents a 1.4 million-acre increase from 2007.

Of the land owned by foreigners, the report found that 58 percent consisted of forest land, 13 percent cropland, and 26 percent was pasture and other agricultural land.

Canadians hold the largest amount of land with 7.3 million acres or 34 percent of the total amount owned by foreigners.

Other countries having the largest ownership interest included the Netherlands, with almost 3.9 million acres or 18 percent; the United Kingdom, with more than 1.5 million acres or 7 percent; and Germany, with almost 1.4 million acres or 6 percent.

Maine had the largest amount of foreign-held U.S. agricultural land with 3.35 million acres, or 18.7 percent of the privately held agricultural land in the state.

In Hawaii, 8.8 percent of private agricultural land is foreign held.

Other states having the largest proportions of foreign held land include Washington - 7.2 percent; Nevada - 5.2 percent; and Alabama - 5.1 percent.

The publication's findings are based on reports submitted in compliance with the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978.

The law was created to establish a nationwide system for the collection of information pertaining to foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land.

Foreigners who have purchased or sold agricultural land are required to report such transactions to the USDA's Farm Service Agency within 90 days of transaction.

For reporting purposes, USDA defines agricultural land as any tract of land more than 10 acres in size and currently devoted to farming, ranching, forestry or timber production.

Foreign investors who own or have an interest in 10 or fewer acres are not required to report such transactions unless annual proceeds from the sale of agricultural products from those acres exceed $1,000.

To view the entire report, titled "Foreign Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land," go to the Farm Service Agency Web site at:

USDA loan programs reach 60-year milestone

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development recently participated in events that commemorated the 60th anniversary of USDA's telecommunications and housing loan programs.

In 1949, when only one in three farms had access to telephone service, USDA's telecommunications program was established to provide telephone service to rural America.

As it did with the rural electrification program, the Telephone Loan Program revolutionized the lives of millions of rural families and businesses by providing connectivity and access to emergency services, while enabling the various business activities that would help spur economic growth.

Today, the Rural Utilities Service, formerly known as REA, provides loans and grants for telecommunication, electricity, water and environmental services. It is also administering a program, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to provide broadband service to underserved communities.

Also in 1949, passage of the Housing Act marked a turning point in the nation's history by establishing USDA's Farmer's Home Administration. To date, 3 million rural Americans have benefited by receiving housing loans, grants and guarantees totaling $124.6 billion.

Today, USDA's Rural Development continues FmHA's mission of increasing economic opportunity and improving the quality of life for rural residents. The agency reaches those objectives by fostering growth in homeownership, financing business development and supporting the creation of critical community and technology infrastructure.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.