Between 2009 and 2019, the amount of U.S. agricultural land owned by foreigners doubled. In 2021, that number amounted to over 40 million acres of private U.S. farmland owned by either a foreign individual or foreign subsidiary.

These numbers, released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have sparked numerous legislative initiatives introduced in the 118th Congress. Those bills include the Prohibition of Agricultural Land for the People’s Republic of China Act, the Protecting Our Land Act, the Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security Act or “PASS Act,” the Securing America’s Land from Foreign Interference Act, the This Land is Our Land Act, and the Saving American Farms from Adversaries Act.

Despite that lengthy list of legislative proposals to combat foreign ownership of U.S. farmland, there seems to be less interest in coming up with ways to reduce our reliance on imports of foreign agricultural commodities and products. Displacing American farmland owners is just as destructive as displacing American agricultural producers on grocery store shelves and in consumer households.

Stronger country-of-origin labeling requirements would help consumers seek out the products and producers they want to support. A spring 2023 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that consumers are willing to pay up to $3.67 more for a pound of beef if they know it was Born, Raised, Harvested, and Processed in the U.S.

But what about in instances where consumers lack the ability to make those choices, such as in school cafeterias or provided through aid programs? The U.S. government spends over $600 billion each year in procurement costs – are we certain that those taxpayer dollars are supporting U.S. producers and manufacturers?

A recent audit report issued by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) did not have an adequate, documented verification process in place to confirm origin claims for commodities purchased through the Food Purchase and Distribution Program (FPDP) in 2018.  The program was authorized to spend up to $2.6 billion to purchase surplus commodities that included a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts, beef, pork, chicken, eggs and dairy products.

The OIG report found at least $16.7 million worth of commodity purchase orders where the origin claims were unable to be verified or trace-backed. In total, over $140 million worth of commodity purchases through the FPDP were missing verification documentation. 

That is just one example of federal procurement dollars potentially – or, probably - supporting cheap, imported food. State procurement contracts are even more difficult to track, so not much is publicly known about who is filling those commodity purchase orders.

The policy of federal and state governments is to be the best steward of each taxpayer dollar, which often rewards the lowest price available in the agricultural marketplace. And even though the Buy American Act (BAA) requires the federal government to prefer domestic goods and manufactured products when making purchasing decisions, waivers can be obtained if “domestic preference would be inconsistent with the public interest.”

As Congress looks to the next farm bill, policies encouraging and incentivizing the purchase of American-made foods and products by the federal government and other large government-aided institutions can help build a secure and sustainable domestic supply chain. A sustainable future is also a profitable future, which then provides the opportunity for American producers to build the capital necessary to acquire American farmland.

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association urges Congress to act swiftly and fervently to support U.S. agricultural producers by working to reverse the nation’s overreliance on foreign agricultural goods. Consumers want to support American agriculture and are willing to put their money where their mouth is – it’s time Congress does, too.   

Justin Tupper currently serves as president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. Since 2007, Justin and his wife, Brooke, have managed the premier St. Onge Livestock in St. Onge, South Dakota. The Tuppers also raise cow-calf pairs in southwestern Wyoming and southeastern Montana.

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