JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers want to limit how much agriculture land is foreign owned. Legislation approved this week would pump the breaks entirely on any foreign entity acquiring more farmland in the state.
About .3% of the state’s farmland is currently foreign owned. A bill moving forward in Jefferson City would not only reduce the amount of agriculture land that can be owned by a foreign entity, but it would prohibit any future sale, which some say is unfair to landowners.
“We’re going to, as a state, decide what private businesses can be sold to what entity,” Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said. “That’s how I see this.”
Months after a Chinese spy balloon traversed Missouri, lawmakers want to put an end to selling off farmland to those overseas.
“Yes, this is a property rights issue because we are protecting Missouri’s property, we’re protecting this nation’s property,” Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said.
Last month, the House passed its own version of limiting how much land is owned by a foreign entity in the state. The House’s version also prohibited five countries, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela from buying anymore land. That provision was stripped out of the Senate’s version.
“With those definitions on restricted countries, there’s already a template in place at the federal government, but we want to make sure here in the State of Missouri, we have control of that as well,” Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, said.
Haffner sponsored the legislation in the House. After the Senate’s changes, he said the General Assembly will continue to talk through it and let the legislative process play out.
Brattin is heading the legislation in the Senate, where members agreed to restrict any foreign entity from acquiring farmland moving forward.
“There is nothing that prohibits an individual from selling their land but yes, we’re going to put prohibitions of who in the world we’re going to sell too,” Brattin said. “Are we going to sell to Osama bin Laden? To other foreign adversaries that wish to destroy our nation?”
According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, countries with the biggest ownership of land in Missouri include China with more than 42,000 acres, New Zealand with 16,000 and Spain with 13,000. Nearly all of China’s land goes to Murphy Brown of Missouri, LLC., formerly Smithfield Foods, a major hog production company.
Overall, the legislation is bipartisan, but sponsored by Republicans, the same political party that, 10 years ago, overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto to allow foreign ownership of farmland. This allowed 1% of the state’s farmland to be owned by foreign firms. Soon thereafter, a Chinese company purchased Smithfield Foods.
The legislation would also require countries to report and land acquisitions or transfers with the Missouri secretary of state’s office and the attorney general.
“Food insecurity is a real thing and I think starting with making sure that Missouri famers get first priority on our land is definitely what we should be talking about,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Thursday.
Hough, a first-generation cattleman in southwest Missouri, was among two other Republicans who voted against the bill, saying it takes away personal property rights.
“The way I see it now, a foreign entity that wants to come in and buy farmland in this state has to go private property owners and say will you sell your property to me,” Hough said. “What we are doing here is saying we’re going to take that decision away.”
Under House Bill 903, land already owned by a foreign entity would be grandfathered in. Current state law says only 1% of the state’s land can be owned by a foreign firm, but this legislation would reduce that down to 0.5%.
During debate in the Senate, members also successfully added an emergency clause, which means the legislation would go into effect as soon as the governor signs it.
The bill now heads back to the House, where members can either accept the Senate’s changes or call for a conference to find a compromise.