With the Oil and Mineral Reserves of New Mexico, Should the State Consider a Ban on Foreign Land Ownership?


The state of New Mexico sits atop some of the largest oil, natural gas and mineral reserves in the world. More and more foreign companies are purchasing land in New Mexico and elsewhere. 

Should New Mexico legislators act to prevent the ownership of New Mexico land and mineral rights?

The threat to New Mexico and elsewhere.

Foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land doubled from 2009 to 2019, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) records, and policymakers have become increasingly concerned about foreign control.

According to USDA data, foreign investors owned at least 35.2 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2019—2.7 percent of U.S. farmland, an area almost the size of Iowa. While foreign land ownership has been reported in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, the holdings are concentrated in particular states. The greatest share is in Texas, with over 4.4 million acres, followed by Maine (3.3 million acres) and Alabama (1.8 million acres). Over 40 percent of the additional 3.4 million acres acquired by foreign investors in 2019 was located in Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

Canadian investors hold the largest share of this land, at 29 percent, with the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom collectively owning another 33 percent. The remaining 38 percent is held by entities from almost a hundred other countries. Although Congress has become increasingly concerned about Chinese land purchases, investors from China currently own only a small fraction of this land, at 191,652 acres (0.05 percent of the total).

In Oklahoma as a result of the marijuana industry regulators are seeking laws to prevent foreign ownership.

According to High Times, a newly introduced bill seeks to ban foreign ownership of land in Oklahoma in an attempt to curb illegal cannabis cultivation. House Bill 3125 was introduced to the Oklahoma House of Representatives earlier this month, and most recently on February 19th, 2024, it was recommended to the full Appropriations and Budget Natural Resources Subcommittee.

Foreign entities buy agricultural land for a variety of reasons, such as food production, wind farming, carbon offsets, or speculative investments. In 2019, 49 percent of reported foreign-held acreage in the United States was forest land, while 25 percent was crop land, 24 percent was for pasture and other agricultural uses, and 2 percent was for non-agricultural uses (such as homesteads and roads). The USDA reports that the changes in pasture and crop land holdings since 2009 were mostly due to foreign-owned wind companies signing or terminating long-term leases.

Per High Times, HB-3125 is sponsored by Rep. Danny Williams, who represents District 28 in Oklahoma. Recently he told Fox25 that foreign land ownership is one of the biggest problems in his area. “A lot of people when they come in, they’re involved in illegal activity and foreign ownership,” Williams said. “Rules and laws don’t matter to them. It’s profit.”

According to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN), more than 250 people have been arrested in connection to illegal cannabis cultivation since 2021. The issue began to escalate after the pandemic began.

In an interview with OBN representative Mark Woodward in September 2023, he explained the nationalities of many of the arrested individuals. “Many of them were Chinese,” said Woodward. “Now some were tied to organized crime out of Mexico, the cartels, we’ve certainly busted a lot of those farms. We’ve raided farms linked to Serbian, Armenian, and Russian. But one of the biggest criminal organizations and concerns are those that are tied back to Chinese organized crime, and the Chinese Communist Party.”

The Agriculture Foreign Investments Disclosure Act of 1978 (AFIDA) requires foreign companies to report their purchase or land leases, but there isn’t enough enforcement to ensure that landowners are self-reporting. USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary Gloria Montaño Greene told The Lawton Constitution last September that the AFIDA reporting system is all paper-based, and the process hasn’t been updated since it was established. “Companies print out legal descriptions from their internal electronic land management systems and mail their hard copy AFIDA filings in bankers’ boxes to USDA,” Greene said. “We currently have no way to electronically identify the geographic location of AFIDA filings more specifically than at the county level.”

On the state level, regulations vary. Most states, like Texas and Maine, have no restrictions on foreign ownership of land, contributing to the large amount of farmland that is under foreign control in these states. Six states forbid any foreign landholdings, and some, like Missouri, put caps on how much land can be held by foreign entities.

U.S. lawmakers have specifically increased scrutiny of purchases by Chinese investors. Citing national security concerns, the House Appropriations Committee included an amendment in the recent Department of Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration spending bill that prohibits the purchase of agricultural land located in the United States by Chinese-owned companies. Representative Grace Meng expressed concern that the amendment could fuel already rising anti-Asian hate, and the USDA and advocacy groups have pointed out that the USDA does not have the authority to intervene in private land deals. The USDA could enforce the portion of the bill that bans Chinese-owned companies from participating in federal benefits programs, but constitutionally, land purchasing falls under states’ rights, and legislators have made no motions to change that. The House passed the agriculture appropriations bill on July 29, raising questions about how it will be enforced if it becomes law.

It is important to note that foreign entities are not the only ones aggressively buying up U.S. farmland. Many large corporations, pension funds, and wealthy individuals are investing in agricultural land in the United States and abroad. Advocacy groups like the National Family Farm Coalition argue that the larger threat to national security is corporate capture of U.S. land resources, whether those corporations are U.S.- or foreign-owned. The NYFC also points to both urban and rural development as a threat to the future of U.S. farms, since converting farmland to other uses drives up prices and makes the land unaffordable for beginning farmers. Along similar lines, climate-related efforts to increase biofuel production and expand afforestation and reforestation could reduce the amount of land available for food production in the future.

The lawmakers of Otero County and around New Mexico have been raising alarms about the invasion from the border. Republicans at the national level are screaming about the border and holding budget deals hostage as a result.

 However, the real invasion and the threat to New Mexico and United States citizens, and national security, is who has control and owns the land that is the most valuable in minerals, agricultural value or commercial value. Foreign ownership of great swatches of New Mexico's lands, and the most valuable and mineral rich American lands is a real threat that needs addressing and now!

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