Foreign-Held Ag Land

About the data 
Congress passed the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) in 1978 to better track ownership of U.S. crop, pasture and timber land. Under terms of the act, foreign interests are required to notify the U.S. Department of Agriculture whenever they buy or sell American agricultural land.

That information is then used to make periodic reports to Congress and the President.

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the AFIDA database, which has entries spanning from 1900 to 2014. Information compiled under AFIDA includes ownership and land-use details included in the FSA-153 form filed by owners with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The data has 20 fields, including location and value of the land and type and usage of the land.

There are more than 23,000 records, dating to as far back as 1900. Since the law wasn't passed until 1978, it's unclear how complete and accurate records before that date are.

Though the Midwest Center has taken steps to ensure that no errors were introduced into the data during the initial data cleaning, users will find errors in the data and should double-check any figures that you use.

The USDA acknowledges there are errors and omissions in the data. Lesa Johnson, program manager, said the USDA does not do verification of the data. Johnson also said the USDA is entirely dependent on self-reported data and thus errors can occur.

As a result, this data has typos and missing information.

Specifically, purchases are usually tracked, but it’s unclear whether sales of foreign-held agricultural land are.

For example, in the USDA data, almost 1 million acres of foreign held agricultural land do not list the country owning the land. In another example, typos result in an entry reporting that a 199-acre dairy farm in Ohio was bought for $594 million, when it was bought for $594,000.

The Midwest Center did not do extensive verifying or correcting of the data. It has has only verified records that it has used in its stories.

Nonetheless, the database is a good starting point for inquiries in foreign owned agricultural land.

If you have any questions regarding the processing of this database that are not answered in the documentation, please call the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting at (312) 970-0395.

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