ALBANY — State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, recently released a proposal to ban foreign adversaries from purchasing farmland in the state.
The move comes amid testy relations with China more than two months after a surveillance balloon was first detected traversing Canada and the United States. It was eventually shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
“We saw a spy balloon go over our country, surveying, property, land sites, information that was collected and that’s concerning,” said Santabarbara. “So what we’re finding is that, I feel like we’re not seeing enough action in Washington, D.C., to address these issues.”
China, as well as Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and Iran, are among adversaries declared by the U.S. Commerce Department.
Some 15 states are currently considering a ban of the like and 14 have already adopted similar legislation.
State Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, introduced a version of Santabarbara’s proposal in the state Legislature’s upper chamber.
“A safe, strong, and local food supply is vital for our country’s national security, and yet, our farmland is one of the most finite and limited resources we have in New York,” said Hinchey, who chairs the state Senate’s agriculture committee. “Protecting it from foreign adversaries not only helps us guarantee American access to food, but makes us more secure in an ever-increasing global economy.”
China owned roughly 192,000 acres of agricultural land across the country, as of 2020. While national figures show that about 62% of foreign-owned land is connected to the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, the breakdown is unclear on a state level.
A major point of the bill, Santabarbara said, is identifying where potential adversary-owned properties are located — especially concerning the properties proximity to U.S. military bases.
That’s not a reasonable responsibility for the state government, said Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R-Johnstown, who described the matter as a “non-issue” for New York. The Fulton County-based state lawmaker said concerns over adversary-controlled farmland should be resolved through federal authority.
“We, in New York State, don’t have the resources to define whether or not a foreign entity is controlled by the Communist Party, for instance, or China,” Smullen said.
Advocating for federal support, Santabarbara reached out to the 111th Assembly District’s congressional representatives, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga.
Tonko’s office declined to comment for this story.
Stefanik was one of five members of Congress in early February to introduce a ban on foreign enemies seizing agricultural land and businesses in the U.S.
“As my bill continues to gain support, I will work to ensure foreign ownership of American farmland does not undermine our national security, especially as our foreign adversaries increase their attempts to threaten our agricultural land and businesses,” Stefanik said in a statement.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.