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How much farmland in the area is backed by foreign investors? A farmer plants crops near the Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru on Friday. The number of cropland acres owned by foreign investors has grown significantly in the past decade.

The Italians are coming? The Italians are here.

Italian investors own more than 21,000 acres of farmland in the Illinois Valley area, a number that has skyrocketed in the last decade.

According to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, foreign investment into local soil has climbed significantly in the past 10 years, following a national trend.

In the United States, foreign investors gobbled up 1.6 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2016, according to The Associated Press. And from 2006 to 2016, foreign investors increased acreage totals in the United States from 15.9 million acres to 28.3 million acres. Most the holdings are in forestland with pasture and cropland also making up a good portion.

In La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties

On the local level, foreign investors had holdings on 3,671 acres in 2006.

By 2016, the number jumped to 31,014 with Bureau County going from 10 acres to 16,801.

Foreign investors are obligated to disclose their land ownership to the USDA through the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978. While some states have been stringent on foreign backers buying cropland, Illinois has not looked into putting too many restrictions on out-of-country investors.

“It’s not something really on our radar,” said La Salle County Farm Bureau president David Isermann.

La Salle County as a whole has about 4,700 acres owned by Italian investors with other ownerships coming from Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Isermann said the investment to buy cropland tends to be long-term because land values are more stable than trading on the market.

“When they come in and buy farm ground, they’re probably going to rent it,” he said.

In Bureau County, 16,413 acres are Italian owned out of the 16,801 acres owned by foreign investors.

Overall, only 1.6% of Illinois land, or 474,000 acres, is owned by foreign investors.

Maine, Texas, Alabama, Washington and Michigan all have the biggest pieces owned by foreign markets.

But the ownership structure is not exactly straightforward. The Farm Service Agency shows the primary property owner could be an American company, but a second or third tier investor could be the foreign party involved.

More interest moving forward?

While Illinois may not have many restrictions on foreign land ownership, other states have taken up the issue. Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota and Oklahoma all have laws banning foreign ownership of farmland, according to The Associated Press.

And the issue has come into the national spotlight, when presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said she would support a national law mirroring Iowa’s foreign farmland ownership ban.

Brett Herrmann can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or svreporter@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SpringValley.

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NewsTribune Online Editor covering Spring Valley and Dalzell. Contact him at (815) 220-6933 or svreporter@newstrib.com

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