All four Democratic members of the Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee called for a public hearing on the recent sale of 9,800 acres of farmland in Grant County to a foreign investor.
The senators also want a public hearing on a provision in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget that would eliminate the current 640 acre cap on the sale of land to foreign businesses or individuals.
“I am concerned that land prices will spike, cost will increase and new farmers will be priced out of farming,” said Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D–Alma). “My constituents are very worried about foreign corporations purchasing such large tracts of land and they tell me that we had better think twice about foreign ownership of our food supply.”
The call for a public hearing comes amid a recent report that UBS AgriVest, part of Swiss banking giant UBS, purchased approximately 9,800 acres in Grant County at a cost of $67.5 million or nearly $7,000 per acre.
Another concern with the foreign purchase of large tracks of Wisconsin farmland is related to the Use Value Tax Assessment and its impact on who pays their fair share of property taxes.
“Use Value Assessment was put in place to help family farms by reducing their tax burden,” said Sen. Dave Hansen (D–Green Bay). “It’s difficult to imagine that a system where homeowners and other small businesses subsidize large tax breaks for wealthy foreign investors was the legislature’s intent when Use Value Assessment was established. I’m also concerned that allowing foreign investors to buy up our farmland puts our reputation as America’s Dairyland at risk.”
The Grant County sale is part of a troubling trend that is developing across the country where foreign investment corporations purchase large amounts of farmland. Many believe this trend is the reason behind the Governor’s effort to remove the longstanding protection for Wisconsin’s family farmers. In states where this trend has taken hold, such as California, more than 50 percent of the farmers are now renting farmland vs. owning compared to just 30 percent who rent in Wisconsin.
“Our farm families already face enough challenges when it comes to farming their land and staying in business,” said Sen. Julie Lassa (D–Stevens Point). “The last thing we need is for China, other foreign countries or foreign investment banks to start buying up Wisconsin’s farmland and renting it back to us at a profit. This is an important economic and food security issue and it should not be treated as just one more budget measure.”
Sen. Lena Taylor (D–Milwaukee) said a public hearing is crucial to getting to the bottom of the land sale and how the removal of the more than 100-year-old cap on the sale of farmland to foreign businesses will impact the state.