Lawmakers Discuss Foreign Land Ownership

Who owns the farmland? And are they a threat to the food system or the economy? Foreign land ownership in Wisconsin is getting a closer look by the state Assembly Agriculture Committee.

Rep. Travis Tranel, who chairs the committee, says several bills have been proposed. He says he wants to slow it down and pay attention to details. He says they’re working on where to draw the line between foreign entities who are a threat versus a partner.

“I think a lot of people, when they hear that people from China, or the Chinese government specifically, are potentially buying up major agricultural assets or even farmland itself, that’s concerning,” Tranel says. “So we want to make sure that we address that.”

But it’s not that simple, he says. The state also has valuable economic partners, such as Canada or the Netherlands, who own land or processing facilities in Wisconsin.

“They’re good processors, they’re good employers, they’re purchasing lots of Wisconsin grown and produced commodities,” he says. “We just have to make sure that when we introduce ideas… that we’ve thought out all of the ins and outs and realize that what we do may affect a lot more people and a lot more institutions that what we want it to.”

Two bills regarding foreign land ownership are in the Assembly Ag Committee. Tranel says they’re pulling out the best from each one to craft one new bill.

Land use is also emerging as a key issue in the Legislature in regard to renewable energy projects. Tranel says a lot of calls coming in to his office, from his district and statewide, regard solar energy projects.

“There’s getting to be a lot of questions as to how intelligently we are thinking about where we place these projects… and what the landscape of rural Wisconsin is going to look like moving forward if we continue to go down this trajectory at the current pace that we’re on,” he says. “Whether or not the current rules and regulations that we have are appropriate, it’s too early to say.”

He says this issue will likely span several sessions as lawmakers work on finding a solution.