Foreign ownership of land

Created: 2/15/23 (Wed) | Topic: Issues

Host Emmery Mehlhoff: Welcome to Straight talk with NDFB. Today I have Senator Bob Paulson with me from Minot, North Dakota. Please introduce yourself, Sen. Paulson.

Sen. Paulson: I’m Senator Bob Paulson, retired Navy pilot. I was in the Navy for 24 years and now live on a farmstead southeast of Minot and love it there. We have some animals and are raising some kids. I decided to run for the House in 2018 and served two sessions and then ran for the Senate. I'm once again the new guy.

Emmery: You have a piece of legislation North Dakota Farm Bureau is supporting regarding the foreign ownership of agricultural land. Could you tell us about the bill?

Sen. Paulson: You bet. So it's Senate Bill 2371 which was initially targeted at concerns over Fufeng in Grand Forks, both from a national security and potentially a food security perspective. I understand the city council voted it down so now Fufeng is apparently dead but there's nothing that says the same thing couldn't happen again.

Emmery: Land ownership is a hot topic this session. SB 2371 is one of four bills addressing the issue of foreign ownership of land. From my experience, when there are multiple bills on the same issue, it's evidence that there is a significant public concern.

Sen. Paulson: Right.

Emmery: What makes your bill unique from the other ones dealing with this issue?

Sen. Paulson: The bill is pretty simple. It says real property in North Dakota state cannot be owned by a foreign adversary or anyone who represents them.

We looked at a lot of different states and what they have been doing in regard to this and decided not to focus on a country or use the word “China” or “Communist.” We decided to simply address the issue of real property being owned by countries who have been identified as foreign adversaries. The definition of “foreign adversaries” comes out of Federal Code 15 CFR. The federal code is continually updated so we don't need to worry about updating ND law if our foreign adversaries change. The other foreign adversaries currently listed in 15 CFR in addition to China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuelan Maduro regime.

Emmery: Is there a way in which your previous military experience has shed some light on this issue?

Sen. Paulson: When I was in the Navy, I definitely looked at foreign adversaries on a regular basis. As far as tactically, I think it's important that we make sure foreign adversaries aren't buying up our land and potentially creating a national security issue or a food security issue.

Emmery: In the agricultural world, we have to dance between security and wanting capital investment into our agriculture. It can get pretty controversial, particularly since China in particular is a player in many of our commodities. What do you say to those who believe foreign investments are good for agriculture?

Sen. Paulson: I would say that SB 2371 does not in any way prevent investments. Countries can bring their capital in and be involved in our commerce. They just shouldn’t own real property. I believe the real property that they conduct business on should be owned by a North Dakota citizen.

Emmery: So we're not just looking at agricultural property here but all real property?

Rep. Paulson: That's correct. With this bill, our foreign adversaries can't hold title to real property in North Dakota.

Emmery:  The national security concern has been established but you also mentioned how it affects our food security. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Sen. Paulson: Sure. I think there are a lot of indicators by different folks buying up farmland around the country and then beginning to talk about how we need to eat, for lack of a better term, manufactured meat. There is a push to replace animals with something artificial. I have a lot of concerns over that. I would not want to be in a position where someone owned enough of our agricultural land, either in North Dakota or in our country where they said, "This is what you're going to eat, and we're in control of that." I would rather see a lot of small farms feeding themselves and their local areas as opposed to these organizations that obviously, if they're a foreign adversary, do not have our best interest in mind. I certainly don't want them controlling our access to food.

Emmery: We see a global shift in our food production and it looks cheap and efficient. Why shouldn't the people who are the best and fastest at something be in charge of making it? But when issues like COVID come up, you might stop and wonder what our food chain looks like and what's at stake.

Sen. Paulson: I think that opened our eyes to a whole bunch of things.

Emmery: Do you have any thoughts on Chinese ownership of a significant portion of our pork industry?

Sen. Paulson: My main concern would be if the percentage of ownership meant they controlled what we're able to buy in the store. We want investment in North Dakota, and if that comes from a foreign source and it’s helpful to North Dakota citizens, I'm okay with that as long as we're careful it doesn't get to the point where they get to call the shots on what we eat.

Emmery: I like the clarification that you're making; the difference between the investment of money and land ownership. America was built on private property ownership. The thing that makes the United States so great is that you can own property and you can produce something for yourself. Land ownership is directly tied to who controls the means of production. We should protect that.

Thank you, Senator Paulson, for representing us and using your experience to look out for North Dakota's best interests.

Sen. Paulson: It's an honor to serve, and I appreciate you having me.

Since the interview with Rep. Paulson, SB 2371 has been amended to allow certain foreign businesses to own real property as long as the business meets certain standards. To see the current status of SB 2371, visit

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