Access to Farmland

Invest in Rural Communities


Access to Farmland

About 400 million acres of farmland in the U.S. will change hands in the next decade as the current generation of farmers and landowners retires. How this transition takes place will dramatically impact rural viability, our response to the climate crisis, and our ability to continue to feed ourselves. For many farmers, especially young, beginning, and immigrant farmers and farmers of color, land access is a major barrier, as farmland prices nearly doubled from 2005 to 2019 and over 2,000 acres in the U.S. convert to nonfarm use every day.

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Numerous pressures are driving up land prices and increasing farmland inaccessibility; one factor has been the entrance of new players in the market. As farms and agricultural businesses have grown, corporations and other large entities have become major buyers, making it nearly impossible for smaller, less-capitalized farmers to compete. Additionally, since the 2008 financial crisis, financial companies, institutions, and pension funds have been buying farmland as an investment.

There are a number of ways that state policymakers can address these challenges and make farmland more accessible to new farmers and others who have historically been excluded from land ownership. (Also see Pillar 1.2: Champion Farmer Equity on this topic.) Most directly, easements and tax exemptions to keep high-value farmland from development can incentivize landowners to transfer their land in a way that will keep it in farming. Policymakers can support farm incubation programs, which train new farmers and often work with older farmers to transition their land to the next generation. Any of these initiatives can be designed to expand availability to new and immigrant farmers and farmers of color.

More broadly, states can address the corporatization of farmland, including by preventing foreign companies and corporations from owning or leasing agricultural land. Following the 1920s farm crisis, North Dakota passed a law prohibiting corporations and foreign countries from owning farmland. The law has remained largely intact over the years, preventing many agribusiness corporations from snapping up the state’s land. Oklahoma’s constitution similarly prohibits foreign corporations from engaging in or owning or leasing farming or ranching operations and prohibits all corporations from real estate transactions outside of cities or towns.

Native communities face an additional barrier to land access, as privatization and some conservation actions have blocked many tribes from access to land for hunting, fishing, foraging, or other traditional activities. Lawmakers can also ensure that Native peoples have access to traditional grounds for traditional activities, particularly on state lands.

Policy Priorities

  1. State: Protect productive farmland through statewide and regional land use planning and supporting access to public lands for farmers.

  2. State: Provide state support for permanent farmland protections such as working farm easements.

  3. State: Fund farm incubators and land link programs, with a priority for initiatives led by farmers of color.

  4. State: Provide income tax and capital gains exemptions for land sale or lease into working farm easements. 

  5. State: Allow Native peoples access to state lands for traditional activities of hunting and gathering of foods and medicine.

  6. State: Restrict or prohibit corporate ownership of farmland.

  7. More Farmland Access policies in Champion Farmer Equity & Justice for Black Farmers

State Examples

  • California (2019 CA AB-986) considered a bill to provide grant funding to eligible conservation entities to protect farmland from development, facilitate sales or long-term leases to farmers of color, and provide assistance for down payment costs and infrastructure improvement.

  • States like Iowa (2021 IA HF 694) and Michigan (2021 MI SB 697) have considered a tax credit for agricultural-asset holders who lease agriculture assets to young and beginning farmers.

  • Minnesota (2021 MN HF 1524) appropriated funding in the Department of Agriculture budget for farm transition teams to provide services like technical assistance to young and beginning farmers.

  • North Carolina (2012 NC HB 737) prioritized new and beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers in a cost share program to help farmers access agricultural markets.

  • Illinois (2021 IL SR 168) passed a resolution calling on Congress to expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to include farming as an applicable career for loan forgiveness.

  • Missouri (2021 MO SB 243) is proposing retightening restrictions on foreign ownership of farmland. The previous limits were changed in 2013 when Smithfield, which owns many assets in the state, was purchased by Chinese-owned WH Group.

  • A North Dakota (N.D. Cent. Code § 10-06.1-02) statute prohibits corporations and foreign countries from owning farmland in the state.

  • The Oklahoma constitution (OK Const. Art. 22, § 1) prohibits foreign corporations from engaging in or owning or leasing farming or ranching operations and prohibits all corporations from real estate transactions outside of cities or towns.