Monday, August 29, 2022

It’s time to pay attention to the wines from Georgia, wine’s birthplace

According to current history, the first evidence of wine-making consists of jars dug up in Georgia, in very far eastern Europe — the jars are about 8,000 years old. The next bit of evidence consists of jars from present-day Iran (7,000 years old). After that, the first evidence of large-scale production is a winery ruin in Armenia, right next to Georgia — this is dated to 6,000 years ago. All of this pre-dates things like writing, for example, and so wine-making is one of the earliest civilized activities. (Note: the existence of wine alone does not imply active wine-making, since fermentation of grape juice occurs naturally.)

The 14th Annual Conference of the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) has been held in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, from August 24–28, 2022. To this end, the AAWE Facebook page has had a series of posts on the current wine-making situation in Georgia; and I thought that I might compile them here, for reference.

As a starter, though, the AAWE also provides links to show that Georgians have a sense of humour when advertising their wines:

Mother of Georgia

It has been noted (The birthplace of wine) that:
Wine isn’t just a small part of the history of Georgia and the Caucasus Region — it is woven into Georgian and Armenian culture everywhere you look. In fact, upon landing in Tbilisi, one of the first things you’ll see is the Mother of Georgia statue standing tall above the city on a hill, with a sword for her enemies in one hand and a bowl of wine for guests in the other.
There has, of course, been a lot of wine history between the beginning and now. Most recently, of course, was the situation as part of the U.S.S.R. (basically 1921–1991; aside: Joseph Stalin was actually an ethnic Georgian). The situation since then was recently summarized by Meininger’s Wine Business International (Georgia: Caucasus blues):
  • Russia is still the biggest buyer of Georgian wines. However, dependence is decreasing, exacerbated by the conflicts over the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian trade embargo on wine from 2006 to 2013 has led to greater diversification.
  • Autochthonous grape varieties are important. The near-black Saperavi grape and the white Rkatsiteli are the two leading varieties
  • Georgia should not be equated only with Qvevri wines. Despite the hype, they form only a small part of the production — this is true for the Russian mass market as well as for the western markets.
  • Cultivation is often traditional. But wines are also produced in large-scale wineries, some of which still have equipment from the Soviet era.
  • Wine tourism is developing well, as history, food, wine and epic landscapes come together in unique exotic experiences.
  • The “land of 8,000 vintages” balances tradition with modernity as it looks to the West.
There is also, of course, the effect of the current situation in neighboring Ukraine (The Bay Area fell in love with this country's natural wines; then the war in Ukraine made them scarce):
Bottles from the Republic of Georgia have been dramatically scarce in recent months, wine buyers report. These wines are a darling of the local wine scene, embraced particularly by natural wine fans, who appreciate the ancient, pre-industrial techniques that many of the country’s smaller wineries employ ... Skin-contact white wine, also known as orange, macerated or amber wine — which has been the Georgian specialty for thousands of years — is by far the most popular type of wine ...

Map of the viticultural regions in Georgia

AAWE posts

Post 1

The country of Georgia is the birthplace of winemaking and home to 500+ indigenous wine grape varieties. However, most are not used commercially. In 2016, 87% of Georgia’s vineyard area was planted with white varieties.

Post 2

Vineyard area in Georgia, 1993-2019.

Post 3

Overall, grape prices in Georgia are very low (about US$410 per ton). In Kakheti (75% of Georgia's wine production) grapes cost just US$385 per ton. In contrast, grape prices in the mountainous Racha-Lechkhumi & Kvemo Svaneti regions are above US2,000 and rising.

Post 4

Wine export share of national commodity export value, 2020. Wine is most important in Georgia (6.3%), Rep Moldova (5.5%), New Zealand (3.4%), Montenegro (3.1%), Chile (2.5%), France (2.0%), Togo (1.9%), Portugal (1.59%), Italy(1.5%), and Argentina (1.4%).

Post 5

Georgia’s white wine is on the rise. Although white wine accounts for approx 70% of Georgia’s wine production, most Georgian wine imported into the U.S. is red! But the share of white wine imported from Georgia has been growing from below 23% in 2014 to now almost 41% (2021).

Post 6

Georgia’s average wine export prices to main markets, 2000-2021.Export prices to the U.S. are rising — against the trend elsewhere.

Post 7

Compared to 2020, the value of Georgia’s 2021 wine exports grew by 13.8% to $239m. By far the most important export destination is Russia (55% of value), followed by Ukraine (11%), China (7%), Poland (6%), Belarus (5%), Kazakhstan (4%), and the USA (2%).

Post 8

How dependent are Georgia’s wine exports on Russia? In 2021, 59% of Georgia’s wine export volume and, due lower prices paid by Russia, only 54.7% of its wine export value, went to Russia. Here a monthly view. Georgia’s dependency on Russia is slowly declining, but still above 50%.

Post 9

U.S. wine imports from Georgia and Armenia, 2000-2021.

Post 10

U.S. imports of wine from Georgia, 2021. The organic share of reds is much higher than of whites. Also, an 18% organic share for reds is second to none. Note, in order to be called “organic” in the U.S., a wine must not contain any added sulfites!

Post 11

Little known — 11.3% of U.S. bottled still wine imports from Georgia are certified organic (by value). That makes Georgia a distant #1 among U.S.’s main import sources. #2 is Austria with a share of 7.4%, followed by Canada with 7.1%.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Aren’t you sick of hearing about wine and health?

There are two things that seem to be getting up people's noses regarding current health issues. The first is the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus and its associated Covid-19 disease. People are sick of hearing about it, and want the pandemic “to be over”, so that they can go back to “the way things were 2¾ years ago”. The second topic is that when we read something new about wine and health, it seems to contradict the previous thing we read — sometimes wine is good for us, and sometimes it is not.

Let’s talk about the second of these topics, here.

I have actually addressed different aspects of this particular topic three times before:
However, lately, the situation seems to be getting worse. There seem to be more and more reports appearing in the wine-industry media, and they seem to be getting more and more contradictory. Take these two, as recent examples of apparent contradiction with each other:
How on earth is the general public supposed to make heads or tails of this state of affairs? (Let alone someone who has had a glass or two of wine!) I am a biologist, and I am supposed to understand all of this, but I only partly do.

The basic issue, it seems to me, is that these reports appear in the general media, repeating some technical report that originally appeared in the specialist medical media; and the general-media writers do not quite understand the topic they are writing about. So, they either repeat the contents of some press release, often taking the words out of context, or they quote selected so-called experts, or they try to explain things in their own words, thus perpetuating their own misunderstanding.

I am sure that many of you have already guessed what usually happens. The original medical experiment was conducted under specific circumstances, and any valid conclusions need to take into account the limitations of that work. Sadly, this is not taken into account in the general media, so that the conclusions are generalized way beyond what the original medical authors intended. This may make for exciting news reporting, but it does not lead to better understanding by the general public.

Take this report, from a generally reputable part of the US media, as a classic example:
Just five alcoholic drinks a week will age you — and mess up your DNA
The report’s author arrives at conclusions that exaggerate the data:
The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, revealed that consuming alcohol in excess can wreak havoc on DNA by causing damage to telomeres — like protective caps at the ends of a chromosome — which could eventually lead to age-related diseases and the formation of cancer.
There were many such reports about this particular piece of medical work, around the world, some of them more moderate than others in their conclusions, and some referring to five large glasses of wine and others to seven pints of beer.

The original report (Alcohol consumption and telomere length: Mendelian randomization clarifies alcohol’s effects) was a descriptive (or observational) study, rather than an experimental one, trying to find correlations between chromosomal telomere length and alcohol consumption or alcohol use disorder. The authors conclude that there is:
a potential threshold relationship between alcohol and telomere length. Our findings indicate that alcohol consumption may shorten telomere length. There are implications for age-related diseases.
This is a long way short of the conclusions reached in the general media, don’t you think?

I am not alone, of course, in despairing of some parts of the wine media. Tom Wark, for example, divides writers into four groups: Advocates, provocateurs, cheerleaders and journalists. That pretty much covers the field; and only the latter can be relied upon for accurate reporting

For a primer on how to do things properly in the general media, you could consult: Three takeaways from “Finding the story in the data”. The takeaways are:
  • Learn to write a story from the data
  • Take time to learn about the data
  • Become familiar with the data challenges.
It is the last one that so often is lacking in the wine media.

The basic issue is that pigs can fly — all you have to do is put them in an airplane, which is the same way we can fly. However, this does not happen very often, for pigs, if at all — so, there is a big difference between can and will. Consequently, this next heading doesn't actually say anything: Eating grapes can extend your life by 5 years and reduce Alzheimer’s risk, study says. It doesn't tell us what will happen, or what will probably happen, but only what can happen. That does not inform us at all. This title is no better: Can wine protect you from having a stroke? Of course it can, because most things can do so; none of them are very likely to do so, however.

This leads me to conclude that we probably shouldn’t pay too much attention to wine-media articles about health.

Monday, August 15, 2022

It is time to act, even while we wait for climate change to be addressed

You are all up to your ears in the effects of Global Climate Change; and what is more, you are presumably thoroughly sick of hearing about it. Well, that is tough for all of us. This is not like the Covid-19 Pandemic, which will eventually fade away, just like every previous pandemic in recorded history (such as the Black Death plague, or the Spanish Flu influenza, the two biggest pandemics to date). Global Climate Change is here to stay, because it is the Earth that is changing, not just the people trying to live on it.

Anyone trying to make a living from agriculture needs to respond actively to this situation, not passively. This includes wine-makers. Let's start by reviewing the situation, before turning to possible responses.

You have all read endless reports about droughts and fires, and about floods and hail and thunderstorms (any recent issue of Wine Industry Insight’s daily New Brief lists plenty of them, every single day). This is because weather extremes are the most obvious effects of blanketing the Earth’s atmosphere in a layer of carbon dioxide. This blanket (which started appearing long ago, with the Industrial Revolution) traps heat, which turns the planet into a hothouse. This then changes atmospheric air-flow; and that, in turn, creates variability in climate, world-wide (see How climate change spurs megadroughts).

The effects became really obvious in the 1970s (How can you doubt global warming?), notably with earlier harvests of things like grapes (Grape harvest dates and the evidence for global warming). That is 50 years ago; but people are usually blind to change if it occurs slowly enough. So, none of us reacted, or expected anyone else to do so (Why have we left it so late to deal with climate change in the wine industry?) — except a bunch of Greenies talking about destruction of biodiversity and, later, environmental sustainability (and they turned out to be right).

Until now. Even governments are now reacting; and there is nothing more reactionary than a national government. There is a lot of talk, and even more talk. There are committee meetings, and investigative commissions have been formed. Proposals are expected, and eagerly awaited. After all, 2022 has had worse weather than most previous years, especially in the wine industry.

Governments are apparently aiming for what is called Climate Neutrality sometime over the next decade, or so, with scientists suggesting that the world can reach a system with 100% renewable energy before 2050 (On the history and future of 100% renewable energy systems research). Unfortunately, all that Neutrality means, in practice, is that things will stop getting worse; it does not mean that climate change will be reversed. * So, it sounds fine, in theory; but none of us should hold our breath. That is, even when (if) we get to Neutrality, the agricultural world may be even more different compared to what it is now.

Even worse, for people whose livelihood depends on agriculture, we need to decide what to do in the meantime, while we wait for Neutrality. Agriculture is changing before our eyes; and what are going to do about it? **

There seems to be a lot of people continuing blindly on, hoping against hope that they can cope with the worst of the changes. I don't really blame them — after all, the two World Wars must have been a bit of a shock when they started; and people took time to realize that action was needed, from everyone. More recently, the current drought in California started back around the year 2000 (Seven stats that explain the West’s epic drought), but it is only now being taken seriously; and it may well last until at least 2030.

So, we are talking here about things like  droughts and fires; and simply praying for rain will not be effective (Praying for rain as a hopeful harvest 2022 begins in Italy). Instead, we each need to think long and hard about what our personal reaction is going to be to trying to grow crops in places that are now rather unsuited to their healthy growth. The most obvious part of the water problem comes from growing crops that require more water than is currently available to them — in the past, water use and water availability were roughly balanced, but not any more. It took centuries for people  to get the previous balance right, but now we literally have a few years, instead.

To a biologist (like me), one obvious reaction is to swap to growing something that is suited to the current local climate conditions. This does not have to be a permanent change, of course. After all, the government reactions may be effective enough to return to some parts of the past, if the changes to date have not been irreversible. If so, then any personal response would be temporary, just to tide us over in the meantime. Sadly, trying to get from year to year sounds all too familiar to farmers, doesn’t it?

This sort of change is nothing special to a biologist. After all, even now some sorts of crops are doing better than others, depending on the local conditions. One recent comment in the wine industry (There may be hope for France’s wine, despite drought) notes that: “in some regions, there are lesser-grown varietals that are thriving in comparison to traditional grape varieties.” That is, not all grape varieties are the same in their response to droughts, for example — this is what Biodiversity means.

I am glad that I am not alone as a proponent of actively matching crops to the current climate, or Climate Adaptation as it is sometimes known. For example, Deirdre Des Jardins (Climate adaptation: match crops to climate) provides a carefully reasoned argument, using California as an example, although she does not explicitly address grapes.

Nor is it an easy suggestion when applied to grapes. Replacing annual crops is much easier, of course; and there are, for example, drought-tolerant varieties of many of them (eg. Drought-tolerant corn in the United States). This is why people need to start thinking about the topic now, with regard to perennial crops. It will take time, and the sooner we start, the better. Trials of different grape varieties take time, in any given region (a grapevine usually has a lifetime of 20-30 years). It takes even longer if new varieties need to be developed for specific circumstances (eg. UC breeds wine vines resistant to Pierce’s disease). There is also the possibility of abandoning grapes altogether (eg. Agave: the new drought-tolerant California crop?)! ***

Interestingly, the wine industry was once seen as a potential leader in addressing Climate Change. Way back in 2015, it was noted (Message in a bottle: the wine industry gives farmers a taste of what to expect from climate change):
The wine industry is sensitive to climate change, but grape growers also have the funding and knowledge to put themselves at the forefront of climate adaptation. Other farmers should watch with interest.
Does this sound like the current situation, to you? Well, actually, the funding part may still apply (Napa Valley wine grape farmers set to get part of $2 million in climate education funding):
Napa Valley Grapegrowers are set to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency to educate growers and producers on farm risk management and “climate smart” farm practices.

Note carefully, that this is not a “gloom and doom” blog post. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Climate Change is nothing more than change, and we need to change with it, that’s all. After all, there have been some positive effects noted in the wine industry for Global Climate Change, along with the negative ones:
Until the 2000s, climate change had positive effects. There are some appellations that have been transformed [by climate change] in terms of quality. Today the situation has completely changed. And we are seeing certain regions that are facing great difficulties.
So, it is time to act. Grape-growers cannot sit around watching their water resources becoming more erratic, or waiting for the next fire / hailstorm / flood. You can’t wait for your government, any more than it will wait for you. It is your farm, not theirs, and you need to think about what you should now be growing on it. It doesn’t matter where on the planet you are, this still applies to you, too — that is why it is called global climate change. We can’t continue to put all of our eggs in the same old basket.

* Technically speaking, the climate will reach a new Stable State. This State will probably be different to its previous State — this is what tends to happen in physics. A simple example: the pen is in a Stable State while resting on the tabletop; when we knock it onto the floor, this is a new Stable State for the pen — the pen does not return to the tabletop on its own.

** Andrew Margan, of Margan Family Wines, has recently noted, fatalistically:
We’ve had enough of this, what with drought, bushfire smoke, Covid shutdowns and now floods. I guess that’s life and you just have to get on with it.
*** Update: How France’s wine industry is adapting to climate change:
The industry is trying to adapt to this onerous new reality through a variety of techniques, from bringing back forgotten grape varieties to moving their vineyards to new locations.

Monday, August 8, 2022

How has the vineyard composition of France changed recently?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about long-term changes in the vineyards of the USA (How has the vineyard area of the US states changed over the past century?), comparing the vineyard area in the distant past with what it is now. Also, I had previously done a similar thing for the vineyards of France (France's changing vineyards) and Australia (Australia's changing vineyards), although covering only the most recent six decades.

Today, I will look at France again, but this time I will focus on the change in individual grape varieties. After all, More vineyard area does not necessarily mean more grape varieties. I have previously looked at individual varieties for Sicily (Sicily is deservedly in the wine spotlight these days), for example, but not for France Very remiss of me!

The comparison concerns the areas of the various red-grape varieties (only) grown in France in 1961 and and 2016 (55 years apart). The 1961 data come from Pierre Galet (1962 Cépages et Vignobles de France, as provide by the American Association of Wine Economists Facebook page. The 2016 data come from Kym Anderson and Signe Nelgen Database of Regional, National and Global Winegrape Bearing Areas by Variety, housed at the Wine Economic Research Centre. *

The main trick was to try to align the various varietal names between the two datasets (ie. identify the synonyms). There appear to be 60 distinct red-grape names involved (plus miscellaneous “Others”). Of these, 30 names were identical in the two sets, and 13 more were listed as synonyms. Another 15 could be deduced via online resources (eg. Lexicon, Wine-Searcher). The two remaining from the 1961 data are: “Morrastel-Bouschet”, which is apparently a cross of Graciano (Morrastel) and Bouschet Petit; and “Aspirans”, which is plural, apparently referring to several similar cultivars, all now uncommon in France. Another plural is “Gamays tenturiers”, which consists of: (at least) Gamay Teinturier de Bouze, Gamay Teinturier de Chaudenay and Gamay Teinturier Freaux. (Teinturier grapes have red flesh as well as skins.)

The 1961 data are clearly only rough estimates, in that they are presented to the nearest 50 or 100 hectares (250 acres), whereas the modern data are based on European Union records, to the nearest 0.1 hectare. The two datasets are shown in the graph. Each point represents one grape variety, located according to its vineyard area in 1961 (horizontally) and its area in 2016 (vertically). Only six of the varieties are labeled. The pink line represents equal areas in both datasets (anything above the line had more area in 2016 while anything below the line had more area in 1961).

Changes in French red-grape varieties

Since most of the points are below the line, more red-grape varieties decreased in area (41 of them) than increased (19) over the 55 years. This is in spite of an apparent 26% increase in total red-grape vineyard area during that same time. This implies a loss of what is referred to as Diversity, in the sense that fewer varieties are coming to dominate the national vineyards. This is generally a Bad Thing (Regional diversity of grape varieties is important for climate change); and France has not done all that well in this regard, compared to many other countries.

The biggest absolute increases in area involved Merlot (+93,500 ha), Syrah (+60,500 ha), Garnacha Tinta (+46,500 ha) and Cabernet Sauvignon (+39,500 ha), followed by Pinot Noir (+23,500 ha) and Cabernet Franc (+18,500 ha). None of these increases is particularly surprising, given the popularity of their resulting wines — success will out. Indeed, on a global scale these are also the biggest red-grape increasers recently, except for Garnacha Tinta, which is among the big global decreasers recently (The grape varieties that have increased and declined the most since 2000). The three points at the very left of the graph represent varieties that were very rare in 1961 but now have 2—3,000 ha (Caladoc, Muscat of Hamburg, Marselan), suggesting a new interest in them.

The biggest absolute decreases in area involved Aramon Noir (-159,000 ha) and Mazuelo (-153,000 ha), followed by Grand Noir (-40,000 ha) and Alicante Henri Bouschet (-32,500 ha). These are pretty dramatic decreases, indicating a pretty serious fall from favor. Mazuelo is also among the big global decreasers (The grape varieties that have increased and declined the most since 2000), while the others are not widely planted outside France. Actually, some of the 1961 varieties are now considered as close to being extinct (Abondonce de Doui, Canari, Gueuche Noir), with one now extremely rare (Gros-Verdot), and others now globally uncommon (Fuella, Teinturier du Cher, as well as the Aspirans mentioned above).

Of the common varieties, Tannat has maintained its area (it is on the pink line in the graph), as has Cinsaut (near the line). These are the exceptions rather than the rule. Another common global pattern is increases in varieties in one country only. The best-known example is Tempranillo, which has had far and away the biggest global increase in area since 2000, but almost exclusively (94%) within Spain (The grape varieties that have increased and declined the most since 2000). Tempranillo was not recorded in France in 1961, but had expanded to 659 ha by 2016.

These days, many grape varieties are international (Wine grape varieties: where in the world are they?), and we thus expect a great deal of similarity in the vineyard composition of both the Old and New Worlds (Which countries are similar to each other, in terms of their grape varieties?). Not unexpectedly, France is rather similar to Spain and Italy in this regard.

Nevertheless, the vineyard grape varieties of France have long been of interest to the wine industry, especially the red ones. Indeed, there was a time when their resulting wines were the gold standard to which others aspired. While this is no longer strictly true (just ask a Californian wine-maker!), the grapes are still of interest. Clearly, the French have not rested on their laurels, but are continuing to make deliberate efforts to move with the times, by changing their vineyard composition.

* Anderson and Nelgen also have data for 14 varieties in France in 1960.

Monday, August 1, 2022

How much of US agriculture is owned by foreigners?

Last week, I presented some data on the very different sizes of vineyards throughout the Europe Union (the so-called Old World of the wine industry) compared to bits of the New World (The biggest difference of European vineyards from those elsewhere). This week, I will reverse things, by looking at how land ownership in the USA might be influenced by the rest of the world.

The wine industry is always interested in who is buying whom (eg. Who is buying Napa wineries?), not least because of potential changes (Why it really does matter when family-owned Napa wineries sell to corporations). In the modern world, everywhere often owns a bit of everywhere else; although, just at the moment, some people are trying to reduce Russian ownership of anywhere except Russia (Business retreats and sanctions are crippling the Russian economy), and Australian's are having trouble with China (China’s 3rd largest wine producer offloads over 300 ha Australian vineyards).

Nevertheless, it is an interesting question to ask: how much of United States agricultural land is registered as being owned by non-Americans? The short answer is (as discussed below): not much of Rhode Island, but quite a lot of Maine.

The data that I am presenting here come from this report: Foreign Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land (Through December 31, 2020), as produced by the Farm Service Agency, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Obviously, the data includes only land ownership that has been formally registered. * The report concludes:
"Foreign persons held an interest in nearly 37.6 million acres of U.S. agricultural land as of December 31, 2020. This is 2.9 percent of all privately held agricultural land and 1.7 percent of all land in the United States ... These and other findings are based on information submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in compliance with the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978. Forest land accounted for 46 percent of all reported foreign-held acreage, cropland for 29 percent, pasture and other agricultural land for 23 percent, and non-agricultural land for 2 percent."
In order for you to get a clear picture, that amount of land is roughly equivalent to the size of each of the 30 smallest states — Georgia, for example, is 37.1 million acres, and Washington is 42.6 million acres. So, let’s look at how this ownership is distributed among the various states around the country. The first graph shows the relationship between the total agricultural land (privately owned) and the amount of it that is registered as foreign-owned. Each point represents one of the 50 US states, only three of which are labeled.

Foreign ownership of land by state

As expected, there is a close relationship, in the sense that the more agricultural land there is in a state then the more of it can be owned by foreigners. However, clearly both Hawaii and Maine have more foreign-owned land than expected (based solely on their size), while Rhode Island has less than expected. We can check this by looking at the actual percentages of foreign-owned land for each state, as shown in the next table (click to enlarge). The bar across the table represents the national average of 2.9% (ie. the 18 states above the line have more foreign ownership than this average).

State percentages of ownership

Clearly, Maine is way out in front, with more than twice that of Hawaii. Why are foreigners so interested in Maine? Surely a condo in Hawaii would be a better investment that a farm in Maine? Anyway, to put this into geographical perspective, the next figure is a map from the original report, color-coded with a rough indication of foreign ownership. The south and the west are obviously the parts preferred by foreigners, which is perhaps not unexpected in terms of agricultural production as an investment.

Map of state percentages

Finally, we could have a look at which types of land are most desired, and how this has changed over the past decade, as shown in next graph (also from the original report). Clearly, it is forest land that has long been most preferred, and increasingly cropland, these days. The area of pasture has been relatively stable through time.

Trends in foreign ownership

This brings us to the obvious question as to which groups of foreigners own this land. This is shown in the next table. Clearly, it is Canadian investors who own the largest amount of reported foreign-held land, with more than one-third of the total. This may not surprise you, given that forestry is the main industry involved. The presence of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the Cayman Islands are not unexpected, either, as these are well known locations for harboring holding companies, on behalf of those people who wish to keep a low profile — who actually owns those companies could be determined only by asking the respective governments (who will not tell you). The Chinese are also known for their modern interest in foreign ownership, particularly of resources that are valued for sales within China itself. On the other hand, Italy, Germany, Portugal, the United Kingdom, New Zealand (but not Australia!), and France also seem to have a particular interest in US land ownership.

Countries of ownership

Foreign ownership of agricultural land is a thorny issue. North America was originally “owned” by the indigenous people. Then it was taken by the British and the Spanish, and also the French, without compensation. Some of the descendants of these colonials then threw the foreign “owners” out, claiming national independence, and thus land ownership. After that, these descendants have been free to sell the land to whomever they choose. And they have been doing so, but not equally throughout the country — foreign ownership of vineyards, for example, often occurs in California (eg. A French conglomerate has purchased a prized coastal vineyard. Here’s why it may be a good thing).

Farming is a seriously declining profession, especially in the west of the USA (see The extinction of the American farmer). There are many modern trends all leading in the same direction of increasing challenges, for people who work on the land. Obviously, the sensible  thing for every farmer in the modern world to do, in the face of global climate change, would be to buy agricultural land in places that are not suffering from fires, heat-waves, droughts, hail or floods. But where are such places?

* Described as follows: "The Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978 (AFIDA) requires all foreign persons holding agricultural land as of February 1, 1979, to file a report of such holdings with the Secretary of Agriculture by August 1, 1979. The information required to be reported consists of the legal name and address of the foreign person; citizenship, if an individual; if not an individual or a government, nature of the legal entity, including the entity's country of creation and principal place of business; type of interest; legal description; acreage; land use; purchase price or any other consideration given; intended use; where applicable, information about the representative of the foreign person; how the interest in the land was transferred; the relationship of the owner to the operator; type of rental agreement, if any; and the date the interest in the land was transferred."