By Johnathan Hettinger and Robert Holly, additional reporting by Jelter Meers
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In 2013, the Chinese firm Shuanghui received wide public attention when it purchased U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods for a record $4.7 billion.
In an overlooked part of the deal, Shuanghui also acquired more than 146,000 acres of farmland across the United States, worth more than $500 million, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
The deal made Shuanghui, now the WH Group Limited, into one of the biggest foreign owners of U.S. agricultural land, according to an analysis of that same data.
That purchase was just a part of a continuing surge in foreign investment in American farmland and food that has raised concerns in Congress and among rural advocacy groups.
“The more control foreign interests have in our food system, the less control we have, obviously,” said Tim Gibbons, a director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, an advocacy organization based in Columbia. “I think it’s a national security concern.”
Chinese landholdings increase
Since 2011, Chinese businesses have made dozens of transactions for U.S. farmland, an analysis of USDA data shows. The amount of American farmland under Chinese ownership may increase in coming months, as China National Chemical Corporation awaits regulatory approval on its acquisition of seeds and pesticides firm Syngenta. Syngenta is Swiss-owned, but it oversees substantial swaths of farmland across the United States from Hawaii to Florida. Overall, Chinese companies own or are invested in more than 240,000 acres of U.S. farmland, USDA data shows.
“When foreign entities buy farmland, my assumption is that we’re never going to get that…