BUY YOUR TICKETS TODAY! FOR ONE DAY ONLY – THE PICCOLO ZOPPE CIRCUS IS VISITING WCDS! Limiting seating available, reserve your seats today! The Zoppé family has been producing circuses since 1842, starting on the cobblestone roads of Italy. Now, Tosca Zoppé, 6th generation equestrian circus artist, proudly joins with her husband, John Walther, and her mama, Sandra Zoppé; to launch a brand new Zoppé production: Piccolo Zoppé is a theatrical circus production that revisits a time when Circus was presented in a traditional way.
This Land is Our Land: States Crack Down on Foreign-Owned Farm Fields
Andy Gipson gets concerned even when American allies such as the Netherlands and Germany invest in large swaths of Mississippi’s farmland.
“It just bothers me at a gut level,” he said.
For Gipson, Mississippi’s commissioner of agriculture and commerce, the growing trend of foreign ownership could threaten what he views as the state’s most valuable asset: the land that grows its forests, rice, and cotton.
“It is our ability as a country, as a state to produce our own food, our own fiber, and our own shelter,” he told Stateline. “And I think every acre that’s sold to anybody outside of this country is one less acre that we have to rely on for our own self-interest, our own national food security.”
Gipson has spent recent months studying the growing amount of his state’s farmland being bought up by foreign interests. He chaired a study committee that just issued a 363-page report on the issue requested by the legislature after a lawmaker had offered a bill to ban foreign purchases completely.
Since its constitution was approved in 1890, the state has had provisions restricting land ownership by “nonresident aliens,” the report noted. But the committee concluded current state law “lacks a clear, workable enforcement mechanism.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that foreign interests held some 757,000 acres of Mississippi’s agricultural land, about 2.5% of the total. Gipson hopes the Republican-led legislature will stiffen the law in the upcoming session.
“I think the time is going to be right in 2024 for the legislature to tighten these laws up,” he said.
If the legislature acts, Mississippi will join a growing group of states seeking to ban or further restrict foreign ownership of farmland. Lawmakers are targeting nations considered hostile to U.S. interests, such as China and Russia, and looking for new enforcement measures. Many see Arkansas as leading the latter push; officials there invoked a new law in October that bans certain foreign owners and ordered a Chinese seed company to divest its land.
Nearly half the states have some restrictions on the books, some dating back to the 1700s.
While the debate is as old as the nation itself, the issue has been reinvigorated in recent years after Chinese firms purchased land near military installments in North Dakota and in Texas, said Micah Brown, an attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas who tracks the issue.
Brown said lawmakers in 36 states proposed some sort of legislation on the issue this year, ranging from caps to bans to targets on certain countries, with measures passing in about a dozen of them. More bills are expected in upcoming sessions.
Some lawmakers and experts warn that such laws could go too far, making it difficult for some farmers to sell their land, discouraging economic development, or even leading to discrimination against certain groups of people, such as Asian Americans.
Foreigners held an interest in about 40 million acres of U.S. agricultural land at the end of 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Canadian investors own the largest share of that acreage, followed by investors from the United Kingdom and Europe. Foreign ownership represents only about 3.1% of all privately held U.S. agricultural land. But the number is quickly rising: Foreign ownership has increased more than 50% in the past decade, Brown said.
But USDA data shows Chinese ownership is still relatively rare: Chinese interests own less than 1% of the nation’s foreign-held agricultural acreage.
Federal law currently does not regulate foreign ownership of land beyond requiring foreign buyers to register with the USDA. But there is bipartisan interest in Congress in tighter restrictions and reporting on foreign ownership.
At the state level, much of the legislation has been proposed by Republicans, though Brown said it’s largely enjoyed bipartisan support — particularly when bills target ownership by nations considered hostile to American interests.
“It’d be pretty difficult for someone to step out and say, ‘Hey, I don’t think we should restrict North Korea.’ … That’s kind of where some of the politics come into this. It looks like you’re achieving something. There’s been a lot of bipartisan support on these efforts.”
Arkansas leads on enforcement
In October, Arkansas Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders invoked the war between Israel and Hamas as she announced her state was taking its first action against foreign ownership of agricultural land.
Sanders described America’s “enemies,” naming not just Hamas, but also China, Iran, and Russia as “on the march.”
“Yet for too long in the name of tolerance we’ve let these dangerous governments infiltrate our country,” she said. “Arkansas will tolerate them no longer.”
The state ordered seed and pesticide maker Syngenta to sell 160 acres of land it owns in Northeast Arkansas and uses for research. Legislation passed during the 2023 session barred certain foreign countries from owning farmland and enabled the state to seek judicial foreclosure for those found in violation. The attorney general’s office said it was to date the only known property covered by the new law.
Syngenta, which was given two years to sell its property, did not respond to a Stateline request for comment. The company previously criticized the Arkansas action as “shortsighted.”
Last month, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, a Republican, announced that Syngenta had paid a $280,000 civil penalty for failing to register with the state as required under legislation passed in 2021.
“This serves as a warning to all other Chinese state-owned companies operating in Arkansas — I am investigating these types of properties throughout the state and will exercise all powers afforded to my office under the law,” he said in a statement last month.
Based in Switzerland, Syngenta was bought by ChemChina, a state-owned entity, in 2017.
Republican state Sen. Blake Johnson said he was unaware of Syngenta’s acquisition when he sponsored both pieces of legislation. He said the laws were broadly aimed at protecting national security.
“Our food safety is paramount to the national defense, in my opinion: feeding, clothing ourselves and our military if need be in the future,” he said. “That can be done by our own land. We don’t need to outsource that to our enemies.”
Johnson said he was careful to target the legislation at unfriendly nations. It applies to the same countries named in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, federal rules that restrict weapons from certain adversarial nations. He noted that friendly nations are exempt: Canada, for instance, owns large swaths of timberland in southern Arkansas.
“That’s not a problem under this law,” he said.
The Arkansas action was closely watched by officials in neighboring Mississippi.
“To date, Arkansas is the only state that has actually enforced a law like this,” said Gipson, the Mississippi agriculture commissioner. “I like the way they did it.”
But he said there are plenty of complications.
Mississippi doesn’t want to hinder important agricultural research, Gipson said. Nor does it want to dissuade investments such as Japanese-based Nissan’s giant assembly plant in Canton.
“Some of the states have had unintended consequences, and we don’t want to have those, obviously,” he said.
Republican state Rep. Bill Pigott, who also served on the study committee, said he’s working on legislation he thinks will pass in 2024.
A farmer who raises peanuts, corn, and cattle, Pigott said he has not heard from other farmers about the issue, though he said many constituents are concerned.
“People who listen to the news and watch TV — they seem to be more concerned about it than actually the farmers themselves,” he said. “I do get people ask if we are doing anything.”
Pigott said the legislation will aim to target hostile nations such as China and Russia. Currently, investors from the Netherlands are the largest foreign owners in Mississippi, followed by Germany.
“Almost nobody has any concern with that,” he said. “It is the hostile nations, and No. 1 on that list is China.”
Striking a balance
In opening a U.S. Senate hearing in September, Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow acknowledged that the nation’s food system is an integral component of national security.
With more foreign entities buying up land, she said, the issue deserves scrutiny. But she offered a warning:
“We must also be cautious of our history of barring immigrants from owning land in our country and ensure efforts to protect our national and economic security do not encourage discrimination,” she said.
During hearings on foreign-owned agricultural land in Topeka, Kansas, state Rep. Rui Xi, a Democrat and the only Chinese American in the state House, in September warned about rhetoric casting suspicion on Asian Americans such as grad students lawfully admitted to the United States.
“If we want to take a look at foreign investment in ag land and it’s narrow, that’s great,” Xi said. “If you try to cast a shadow and it continues to cast suspicion on people who are here innocently, who are just trying to learn, who are trying to attend our universities, I think that’s where we really, really need to urge caution.”
While more American agricultural land is being bought up by foreign interests, it’s generally not governments that own it, said David Ortega, a food economist at Michigan State University. Syngenta garnered plenty of attention in Arkansas, but it’s more common for foreign individuals and firms to buy land as investments, he said.
So far, Ortega said, there’s no evidence that foreign purchases have raised ag prices or pose any threat to American food security.
Ortega said policymakers should consider carefully the potential effects of new laws on the broader agricultural economy. China, for instance, is often targeted by legislators. But it’s also the largest buyer of American agricultural exports and could retaliate against American farmers.
“It’s far easier for China to find a new source to buy [from] than it is for us to find new export markets,” he said in an interview.
Ortega said there are specific, local concerns about foreign ownership worth addressing. And while there are many good-faith debates occurring, he does worry that the conversation could lead to discrimination against groups such as Chinese Americans.
“I don’t think that the root cause of lawmakers’ concerns over this issue is rooted in xenophobia,” he said. “But I am worried that the way this issue is talked about can lead to xenophobia and those types of issues. And that’s why I and others are urging caution.”
Since Congress has not enacted any legislation, state lawmakers say they are willing to act.
“While I would prefer we send one message from our Congress to address this issue, that’s beyond the scope of what I can do,” said Georgia state Rep. Clay Pirkle, a Republican. “What I can do is formulate a state response to this issue.”
Pirkle grows cotton, peanuts, rice, and butterbeans on about 1,000 acres in southern Georgia. Earlier this year, he introduced legislation in Atlanta that would prevent nonresident aliens from purchasing farmland near military bases if they were from nations deemed adversarial by the U.S. Department of Commerce — a list that currently includes China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. The bill didn’t progress, but Pirkle plans to pursue it again next session.
He said crafting legislation on the matter is complicated because he does not want Georgia to dissuade purchases from people who have fled other countries for the United States.
“I really made every effort to avoid unintentional consequences of folks from these countries that have come to the United States because they really desire liberty and freedom,” he said. “And I wanted to make sure that I did not unduly burden them.”
But Pirkle believes something needs to be done. American agricultural land is not a renewable resource. Developers continue to encroach on farmland for the development of new housing and industry.
“The land that we have that we grow crops on to feed the world is the land that we have in ag production,” he said. “We’re not making any more, and it is a scarce resource.”
by Kevin Hardy, Virginia Mercury
Stateline is a sister publication of the Virginia Mercury within States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Stateline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Scott S. Greenberger for questions: email@example.com
Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.
Discussion of Poultry Policy in Urban Agriculture Becomes Impassioned at Town Council Work Session
On Monday, December 4, at 7 p.m. in the Front Royal Town Hall at 102 East Main Street, the Front Royal Town Council met for a work session in which they spent a considerable amount of time discussing a proposed ordinance amendment to Town Codes related to poultry policy for Urban Agriculture uses. The discussion had been postponed from council’s regular meeting on September 25. The item was again postponed after an impassioned discussion in which Councilwoman Amber Morris expressed a strong opinion against certain included conditions.
The proposed amendment to Town Code respecting chickens allows for an increase in ownership from six chickens to ten chickens by any residential dweller in possession of a permit, but it may capsize when it comes to a vote because of the regulations that are attached to it. It is these regulations that Morris strongly opposes. They would keep all chickens in coops with a floor space of four square feet for each chicken “and or” – in the language of the amendment – a run space allowing for eight square feet per chicken. “No poultry shall be permitted to run at large,” the amendment reads. Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Lauren Kopishke explained that this “codification” would not be unprecedented, as it reflects the standards by which the Town has operated in the past; it would simply give “teeth” to those prerequisites for owning chickens in residential areas which the Town has historically applied as it inspects, and grants permits. But allowing the chickens to range free in a fenced in area is a priority for both Councilwoman Morris and Councilman Josh Ingram.
Among the many inputs Virginia Cooperative Extension Services Agent Corey Childs gave to council, he claimed that in his experience, six chickens are on the high end for a residential permit. And in a scenario where chickens are ranging free in a fenced area, he remarked that clipping their wings would be a deterrent, but it would not absolutely prevent them from flying over the barrier. While he did not precisely say that free range is out of the question he raised some concerns, emphasizing the importance of cleanliness and advised council to stay on the safe side.
For Morris, this issue is freighted with gravity as she promised one of her predecessors that she would pursue the goal of making urban space friendlier to agriculture. Unlike other council members, including recently installed Glenn Wood, who questioned whether a discussion on chickens surpassing half an hour is a legitimate use of council’s time, Morris considers it time well spent and believes there are many constituents who care deeply about this issue. The reality is that not all permit holders are completely in line with Planning and Zoning expectations, and Morris feels the codification of those expectations would be unfair to them. Non-compliance to the conditions under which the permit was given is a misdemeanor, but Kopishke explained in a private conversation after the public portion of the meeting that in such cases, the Planning and Zoning Department is content to simply revoke the permit without bringing a criminal charge.
After Mayor Lori Cockrell gathered a consensus that further discussion and informed guidance were needed, the item was postponed to a future work session. Having heard from Director of Finance B.J. Wilson, prior to the Urban Agriculture discussion, about a bid from Snyder Environmental Services, Inc., for the 2023 Sewer Rehabilitation Project, a bid which council expects to vote in favor of at the December 11 regular meeting, council quickly addressed several additional agenda items, and then went into closed meeting at 8:40 p.m. to receive legal counsel pertaining to HEPTAD litigation.
Vietnam Veteran Shares Tale of Grit and Brotherhood
Tom LaCombe Reflects on His Time in Vietnam and the Unbreakable Bonds Formed.
In a moving interview, Tom Lacombe, a Vietnam War veteran and the proprietor of the OJ Rudacille General Store in Browntown, Virginia, shared his experiences from one of the most tumultuous periods in American history. His story is one of resilience in the face of adversity and the unspoken bonds forged in the heat of battle.
Called to serve during the Vietnam War, LaCombe found himself in the thick of action as an infantryman in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division. His days were filled with grueling search-and-destroy missions along the treacherous Cambodian border. Lacombe recalls the intensity and brutality of these operations, highlighting the physical and psychological toll they took on him and his fellow soldiers.
Among the harrowing tales, Lacombe recounted the tragic loss of his comrade, Ziggy, whose seemingly minor injury led to an unexpected fatality. These moments of loss and survival deeply impacted him, etching into his memory the fragility and value of life in war.
Yet, amidst the hardships, Lacombe also recalls moments of profound human connection. He shared a particularly touching memory of a fellow soldier sharing water during a challenging mission, a simple act that forged an immediate and lasting bond. These instances of camaraderie amidst chaos became beacons of hope and humanity.
Returning home, Lacombe, like many Vietnam veterans, faced a nation divided and often indifferent to their sacrifices. This led him to conceal his military past for years, a silence shared by many veterans of the era. It wasn’t until much later in life that Lacombe and others like him began to open up about their experiences, driven by a desire to share their stories and ensure they are not forgotten.
Today, LaCombe maintains a strong connection with fellow veterans, sharing a bond that transcends the specific details of each individual’s service. “They’re like brothers,” he says, reflecting on the deep kinship he feels with others who have shared the military experience, regardless of where or when they served.
Tom Lacombe’s journey through the Vietnam War and beyond is a poignant reminder of the complexities of military service and the enduring impact of war on those who serve. His experiences, captured in his book “Light Ruck,” offer a personal glimpse into a critical moment in history and underscore the importance of peace and understanding. Lacombe’s story is not just his own; it is a testament to the shared experiences of many veterans who have yet to tell their tales.
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea topic or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com
This Week’s Showtimes at Royal Cinemas as of December 7th
Are you looking for the full movie-going experience without having to wait in the long lines that often accompany that experience? Then look no further because Royal Cinemas movie theatre is the answer. Get the whole gang together and enjoy a movie! Reserved seating in all auditoriums.
Here is a list of this week’s showtimes at Royal Cinemas as of Thursday, December 7:
Ticket prices are as follows:
- Adult: $10
- Child (under 12): $7
- Military: $8
- Student (college): $8
- Senior: $8
- Matinees, All Seating: $7
FREE “Christmas Classics” Movies
“NAUGHTY OR NICE TRIPLE FEATURE”
Saturday and Sunday @ 1:00pm
- “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”
Randolph-Macon Academy Hosts Inaugural ‘Hoopin on the Hill’ Basketball Tournament
A Weekend of Athletic Prowess and Community Engagement.
In a thrilling display of sportsmanship and talent, Randolph-Macon Academy recently hosted its first-ever ‘Hoopin on the Hill’ Basketball Tournament. The event saw teams from Massanutten Military Academy, The Covenant School, King Abdullah Academy, and host Randolph-Macon Academy competing for the top spot.
The tournament kicked off on December 1st, with an electrifying game where Randolph-Macon Academy showcased their skill against Massanutten Military Academy. The game ended in a decisive victory for R-MA, with a score of 64-14. Standout player Bilal Kebbay led the charge with an impressive 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Teammate Tega Esievo also made a significant impact with 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.
The following day, the competition intensified as R-MA faced off against The Covenant School. In a closer game, R-MA emerged victorious with a score of 41-33. Once again, Bilal Kebbay shone brightly, scoring 17 points, securing 4 rebounds, and achieving 3 steals. Chidera George also contributed significantly with 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
These games highlighted not only the athletic talent of the students but also the spirit of camaraderie and competition among the participating schools. The tournament was made possible thanks to the support of several local sponsors, including Junkluggers, Mint Mortgage LLC represented by Stephen Marut, The Apple House, Realtor Jennifer Avery with Crum Realty Inc., Moneymar Training, Limitless, and Papa Johns Front Royal. Their involvement underscores the community’s commitment to nurturing young talent and supporting local sports.
The ‘Hoopin on the Hill’ Basketball Tournament at Randolph-Macon Academy is more than just a series of games; it is a celebration of youth sports, community involvement, and the spirit of competition. As the teams prepare for their next game, the excitement and enthusiasm generated by this successful event continue to resonate. This tournament has set the stage for future athletic endeavors and community engagement at R-MA.
Learn more about R-MA: https://rma.edu/
Exploring the Real Estate Landscape: Investing in Multi-Family Properties
Pros, Cons, and Key Considerations for Investing in Duplexes, Triplexes, and Fourplexes,
In the realm of real estate investments, multi-family properties like duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes are gaining attention as lucrative opportunities. These properties can offer substantial rewards, but they also come with unique challenges. Understanding the nuances of such investments is crucial for anyone looking to venture into this area.
Economists, as quoted in Money, have recently hailed rental properties as “the opportunity of a generation.” Real estate investment, particularly in rental properties, is a long-term game that has historically contributed to wealth creation, with many millionaires citing it as a key factor in their financial success.
When considering a multi-family property investment, location is paramount. Properties in stable areas with nearby employment centers, like universities or hospitals, are typically more desirable. Investing in a property within your own neighborhood can also be advantageous, allowing for easier management and oversight.
Financial calculations are another critical aspect. Prospective investors must ensure that the rental income will cover all expenses, including loan payments, insurance, property taxes, and maintenance. Factoring in a vacancy rate is also essential. One advantage of real estate investment is that mortgage payments usually remain constant while rents increase annually.
Financing multi-family properties typically requires a minimum down payment of 20%, with interest rates slightly higher than those for single-family home mortgages. However, if you plan to occupy one unit in a two-to-four-unit building, the FHA may offer financing akin to that of a single-family home, potentially reducing both interest rates and down payment requirements.
Tax implications are also favorable. Rental income is subject to taxation, but the depreciation deduction significantly lowers the taxable amount. For example, if you purchase a fourplex valued at $400,000, with the building (improvement value) worth $275,000, you can deduct $10,000 annually from your operating income for tax purposes, as properties are depreciated over 27.5 years. It’s important to note that only the value of the building can be depreciated, not the land.
However, owning a multi-family property isn’t just a financial commitment; it’s also a time commitment. Managing a rental property involves arranging repairs, screening tenants, and being on call for emergencies. This responsibility can be significant, especially for first-time investors.
Investing in duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes presents a unique opportunity for generating wealth through real estate. While the potential for stable income and tax benefits is attractive, it requires careful consideration of location, financials, and personal time commitment. For those ready to navigate these complexities, multi-family properties can be valuable to their investment portfolio.