Arkansas orders Chinese-owned seed company to sell its farmland

Firm also faces a $280,000 fine for not filing paperwork on time

By: - October 17, 2023 3:51 pm
At a press conference Oct. 17, 2023, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (behind lectern) and Attorney General Tim Griffin (left) announce steps the state is taking to force the sale of farmland owned by a company with ties to the Chinese government. (Screen shot from live feed)

At a press conference Oct. 17, 2023, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (behind lectern) and Attorney General Tim Griffin (left) announce steps the state is taking to force the sale of farmland owned by a company with ties to the Chinese government. Several legislators were in attendance. (Screen shot from live feed)

Arkansas officials took steps Tuesday to force a Chinese government-owned agricultural company to divest itself of 160 acres of Craighead County farmland and pay a $280,000 fine for failing to file timely disclosures to the state.

“The land in question is owned by Northrup King Seed Co., a subsidiary of Syngenta Seeds LLC, which is ultimately owned by China National Chemical Co. (ChemChina), a state-owned enterprise,” according to Attorney General Tim Griffin.

Griffin and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders jointly announced the moves at a press conference at the state Capitol along with Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward. Several legislators also were in attendance.

Arkansas is “the first state to take an action like the one we’re announcing this morning” thanks to laws passed by the Legislature this year, Sanders said.

Sanders referred to the landowner as Syngenta and said the company uses the Northeast Arkansas acreage primarily for seed research. ChemChina is on a U.S. Department of Defense list of Chinese military companies, “posing a clear threat to our state,” the governor said.

“Seeds are technology,” Sanders said. “China’s state-owned corporations filter that technology back to their homeland, stealing American research and telling our enemies how to target American farms. That is a clear threat to our national security and to our great farmers.”

She noted that the Chinese government requires its citizens who live abroad to collaborate with its intelligence services. Arkansas welcomes Chinese and Russian citizens who have “given up foreign oppression for American freedom.”

“This is about where your loyalties lie. We simply cannot trust those who pledge allegiance to a hostile foreign power,” Sanders said.

Act 636 of 2023 bans parties from nine countries from owning agricultural land in Arkansas, Sanders said.

Griffin announced at the press conference that he was sending a letter to the Chinese company, giving it two years under the new state law to divest itself of the Northeast Arkansas farmland.

“This is smart. This is strategic,” the attorney general said.

Sanders said Ward had notified the company. If it refuses to sell the property, Griffin will take legal action to force divestiture.

Griffin said he used another law, Act 1046 of 2021, to impose the maximum civil penalty of 25% of the property’s fair-market value on Syngenta for failing to timely disclose its foreign ownership to the state. The property is valued at $1.12 million, Griffin said, making the fine $280,000. The company has 30 days to pay the fine.

The company was supposed to disclose its ownership chain by June of 2022 and missed that deadline, Griffin said.

“I have full confidence that they’re going to divest themselves of the property and pay the fine,” Griffin said.

In response to reporters’ questions, he and Sanders said they weren’t ready to reveal any similar actions that might be taken against other foreign-owned companies.

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Griffin noted it’s “just not the case” that there “all these prosperous, large and growing  Chinese companies that don’t have direct ties to the Chinese government. There are varying degrees of ties, but in this case these are Chinese government-owned.”

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture assisted Griffin’s office in determining the ultimate ownership of agricultural land in the state, Ward said.


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Sonny Albarado
Sonny Albarado

In his 50-year career, Sonny Albarado has been an investigations editor, a business editor, a city editor, an environmental reporter and a government reporter at newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. He retired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2020 after serving as projects editor for 12 ½ years and returned to professional journalism in 2022 to lead the Arkansas Advocate. He is a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists and a current member of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.