Senate bill would restrict corporate ownership of farms

Senate bill would restrict corporate ownership of farms
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 6:48 PM CDT
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RADCLIFFE, Iowa - A new law in Congress could restrict corporations from buying up farmland. Since 2009, the number of corporate-owned farms has increased three fold. The value of that land has increased by $12 billion dollars since 2009. But Iowa corn growers have some concerns with the bill.

Denny Friest has been a farmer in Hardin County for 51 years. He grows a little bit of everything. “We raise corn, soybeans and we farrow-to-finish pigs,” Friest said.

Friest says his farm is a family affair. “I’ve got a son that Farms with me full time and I got a grandson that’s back with us helping quite a bit. Now, It’s actually two grandson one still in high school. So we’re definitely a full-time family operation,” Friest said.

Legislation introduced by Democratic New Jersey Senator Cory Booker aims to protect family farms like Friest’s. The Farmland for Farmers Act would prohibit corporations from buying up farmland.

“I agree with the concept to keep the big corporations out from owning the land, especially foreign countries,” Friest said.

Iowa State University Economics professor Chad Hart says most of the land in Iowa isn’t bought by large investors.

“About 80 percent of the land is sold either to existing farmers or new farmers getting into the business. And we have about 20 percent selling in what we know as an investor class. Now, if you divide that investor class down, the vast majority of those investors are local individuals,” Hart said.

One goal of Booker’s bill is to make it cheaper for local farmers to buy land without deep pocketed large corporations raising the price.

“We saw about a 29 percent increase in farmland values back in 2021. We saw about a 17 percent increase as we went through 2022. And the numbers here so far for 2023 are indicating that the land market is slowing down,” Hart said.

Back at Friest’s farm - he has concerns about regulating corporate ownership of land because many farmers incorporate their farms.

“Back when we incorporated in the 70s we had a lower tax bracket If we were in a Chapter C corporation, we could deduct our health insurance payments,” Friest said.

Booker’s bill would ban corporations of 25 or more people from owning a farm, which wouldn’t affect his farm, but he still has concerns. Friest says some large families with multiple generations farmers could have many members.