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Senate committee debates bills to limit foreign ownership of Missouri farmland

By: - April 7, 2023 6:30 am

Numerous bills seek to limit or ban farmland from being owned by Chinese companies (Getty Images).

Efforts to restrict foreign ownership of Missouri land got yet another hearing Wednesday in the Senate Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety.

House Bill 903, which is the combination of four bills proposed in the Missouri House, would lower the maximum amount of Missouri farmland that can be owned by foreign entities from 1% to 0.5%.

HB 903 would also prohibit business entities from “restrictive countries” — listed as China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela — from purchasing any land in Missouri. If the bill passed, this list would be open to revision by the governor every two years.

Also scheduled for hearing, but not brought up due to time limits, was Senate Bill 649, which would use the definition of foreign adversaries provided in the Code of Federal Regulations to determine what countries should be totally banned from land ownership. Using this definition would add Cuba to the list.

Some have pushed for the legislation to be more restrictive.

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, has sponsored a Senate bill and repeatedly asked the House bill sponsor, Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, if he would support a total prohibition on foreign farmland ownership.

Haffner said he would not due to potential negative economic impact, and said it was important to still maintain some options for foreign investment with allied countries.

Bipartisan group of lawmakers push to restrict foreign ownership of Missouri farmland

“I want that investment available to the state,” Haffner said. “It’s good for the market, it’s good for international relations, it’s good for our war-fighters overseas.”

Eigel also suggested that countries such as Ethiopia and Azerbaijan should be considered as “restrictive countries” due to poor human rights records, and that the World Economic Forum, a Swiss organization run by a German national, should not be allowed to purchase land.

Representatives from the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center spoke in support of the bill. Both said that their organizations would support lowering the cap on foreign agricultural land ownership.

Sam Licklider, a lobbyist for Missouri REALTORS, spoke in opposition.

“We believe that limiting people’s right to sell their property for the highest amount is not a good idea,” Licklider said. “Many years ago when this first came up — the Saudis, who were awash in oil money, were going to come in and buy the state. Well, that hasn’t happened.”

Other efforts have been made in the Senate this session to restrict foreign land ownership in various ways.

The Senate Select Committee on the Protection of Missouri Assets From Foreign Adversaries has approved a bill which would prohibit any foreign purchase of agricultural land. That bill, SB 332, is on the calendar for floor debate in the Senate.

Senate Joint Resolution 38, a proposed constitutional amendment which would have to be approved by voters in the 2024 election, would also ban all foreign ownership of agricultural land. It has been approved at the committee level.

Another proposed amendment, SJR 41, would create a permanent committee to determine which should be prohibited from acquiring land in the state.

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online. 

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