(WGHP) — Michael and Renee McPherson know farming about as well as anyone in the central part of North Carolina.

“This was, originally a dairy farm,” said Renee while walking the land. “We had 500 acres at the peak.”

Michael’s grandfather started the farm in an area where the Tanger Outlets now sit just off Interstate 40. Not long after that, he moved to some land a few miles south which is the land the McPhersons farm now. They also farm a number of acres that they rent not far from the current farm.

They have taken great steps to ensure that their farm will be just that – a farm – generations down the road.

“We have our land under AG Conservation…if this place is ever sold, it has to be sold as farmland,” Renee said.

That may seem like an obvious conclusion. Between the development of land for housing and what some see as a more alarming trend, the sale of land to foreign governments and foreign entities, people who can do something about it have started paying attention.

First, the situation: according to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 40 million acres of US farmland are owned by foreign governments, companies or individuals. 

The largest swaths are owned by countries that are generally very friendly to the US: Canada, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. But they’re not the only ones gobbling up land. China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela have increased their holdings as well, which is why North Carolina House of Representatives Majority Leader John Bell, who represents the Mt. Olive area about an hour southeast of Raleigh, sponsored a bill that would prohibit countries or entities on the US federal government’s list of nations hostile to US interests from buying either farmland or land within close proximity to a military instillation. 

That bill passed the House on a unanimous 114-0 vote and is now in the state Senate.

“We support the bill strongly,” said Jake Parker, who is an attorney working with the North Carolina Farm Bureau.

Parker says that in recent years, North Carolina has had the most farmland purchased by foreign entities after Texas and Arkansas.

“It’s about 3 percent (foreign-owned in) North Carolina,” Parker said. “We have a higher percentage than the national average.”

Food is considered a national security issue by the US government, which is why elected officials are getting involved at multiple levels. 

North Carolina’s senior US senator Thom Tillis is co-sponsoring a similar bill in Congress called “The Security and Oversight of International Landholdings Act.”

“Several bills have been filed to prevent hostile foreign countries from purchasing US farmland, including the SOIL Act which Senator Tillis co-sponsored. The legislation builds on Senator Tillis’s previous work with Senator Inhofe to protect US farmland. The Senator is working with Senator Lankford to get the SOIL Act included in the Farm Bill, which Senator Tillis discussed with multiple North Carolina farmers Monday at a Farm Bill listening session,” Tillis’ office told FOX8 in an email.

But the state felt it had to have its own say in the matter.

“There’s a component of national security that’s involved, and that’s not typically something that states normally get involved in, but also states are the entities that control or have the responsibility for land use,” Parker said.

See more on the idea of protecting US farmland from foreign ownership in the edition of The Buckley Report.