A bill to limit who can buy agricultural land in Indiana advanced Monday with bipartisan support.
House Bill 1183, authored by Rep. Kendell Culp, R-Rensselaer, would prohibit purchasers from “adversarial countries” from owning or leasing Hoosier farmland.
A list of those countries is kept by the U.S. Department of Commerce and currently includes six nations: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.
The proposal builds on a previous measure passed in the 2022 session, which limited foreign entities from buying more than 320 acres in Indiana for crop farming or timber production, among other restrictions.
“This is not just an agricultural issue, this is a food security issue, and we cannot afford to lose control of even a fraction of our food supply — because if we do, then it becomes a national security issue,” Culp said, adding that legislative surveys showed 91% of the respondents in his district were opposed to adversarial countries owning Indiana farmland.
The new bill advanced 11-0 from the House agriculture committee and now heads to the full chamber.
‘Protecting’ Hoosier farmland
Indiana is among 24 states that have adopted some sort of prohibition against foreign ownership of land.
Existing state law limits how much agricultural land can be acquired by foreign businesses, and specifically states that Russian citizens or business entities cannot hold or convey real property within Indiana.
Culp’s bill expands on those conditions, permitting an adversarial beneficiary to have no more than 5% ownership in a parcel of Indiana farmland. Those from adversarial countries are also prohibited from purchasing or leasing water rights, mineral rights or riparian rights.
Under the measure, when agricultural land is bought, the purchaser will be required to sign an affidavit at the closing of the real estate transaction, verifying they do not qualify as an adversary.
The bill additionally creates a mechanism for the Indiana Attorney General to investigate a sale or lease agreement of agricultural land if the transaction is believed to be a violation of law. If the transaction is found to be unlawful, the land in question could be forfeited to the state.
Exceptions are carved out for land without agricultural activity in the last five years, as well as land not officially recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency as farmland.
If passed, Culp’s bill would take effect July 1. It grandfathers all current and past land transactions, however.
At present, 2.2% of Indiana’s nearly 15 million acres of farmland is owned or leased by a foreign entity, of which nearly 80% is cropland, according to a 2021 report from the USDA. The county with the largest amount of foreign-owned or leased farmland White County.
Culp emphasized that while Canada is by far the largest foreign owner of farmland in the United States, Chinese interests — and the amount of nationwide acreage acquired — “is growing at an alarming rate.”
For that reason, multiple Hoosier farmers testified in support of the bill. Culp said large agricultural lobbying groups — including the Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Soybean Alliance and Indiana Corn Growers Association — also back the legislation.
“(Our members) take great pride in being part of the agricultural fabric here in the state and raising some of the most affordable, safest food on the planet,” said Andy Tauer, director of public policy for Indiana Farm Bureau. “They just want to be sure that nothing happens that starts to erode that safety net.”
Unfairly precluding immigrants?
But Chris Daley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana, said Culp’s bill “raises concerns about unlawful national origin discrimination.”
He argued that citizens from the adversarial countries “live lawfully in Indiana” and “contribute to our economy and community wellbeing.”
“Yet, if this bill becomes law, they will be unable to participate as owners in farming in our state. Some of those individuals support their governments and others do not — including those who have fled from their home countries,” Daley said. “If Indiana is going to address concerns about ownership of agricultural land in our state, it must do so in a way that does not punish people for the actions of the government of the country in which they were born.”
Daley maintained that legal permanent residents who don’t give up citizenship in their home country may have already been living in the United States for “15, 20, 30 years” but still would be outlawed from buying Indiana farmland.
“This bill doesn’t protect our land from our adversaries because it includes the millions and millions of people born into those countries. We can’t label everyone who was born in China as an adversary. We welcome many of them into our country, and they become contributing members of our society. That’s the overreach of this bill,” Daley continued. “We’re labeling anyone born in one of these eight countries as an adversary, even if they fled the government that we oppose, even if they oppose that home country, that government, and had to flee for that reason. We’re now saying to them, ‘You cannot be involved as an owner in farming in Indiana.’ That’s the complication.”
Culp said in response that individuals from foreign adversarial countries can still become farmland owners if they take the proper steps.
“If they’re living here, there’s a process to go through to become a U.S. citizen,” Culp said. “If they haven’t gone through that process, yes, they are subject to the terms of this bill.”
Others recommended tweaks to the bill — like a more robust exception to allow for continued agriculture research, as well as clarification around the affidavit requirement.
“What I’m concerned about at that closing table is that affidavit. Who drafts the affidavit? What do we do with that affidavit?” asked Elizabeth Berg, representing the Indiana Land Title Association and the Indiana State Bar Association. “People lie on affidavits, unfortunately. I have litigated that issue. So, I am just questioning whether we even need that.”
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.