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Missouri House passes bill limiting foreign ownership of farmland

Speaker of the House Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, (left) and Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, (right) stand in front of other House Republicans. Haffner is speaking at a podium.
Tim Bommel
Missouri House of Representatives
Speaker of the House Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, left, and Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, right, during a news conference on Thursday at the Capitol. Earlier in the day, the House passed legislation Haffner sponsored that would restrict foreign ownership of Missouri farmland.

The Missouri House on Thursday passed legislation that would limit how much farmland foreign countries can own.

Representatives voted 130-3 to pass the bill, with 22 voting present. It now goes to the Senate, which has its own set of bills filed on the same topic.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, said it balances investments in the state while protecting national security.

“This bill will continue to allow our allies access and opportunities to participate in our economy, while completely restricting access to our enemies,” Haffner said.

Currently, up to 1% of Missouri’s total agricultural land can be owned by foreign countries. This legislation would reduce that amount to 0.5%.

In addition to that reduction, five countries — China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela — would be barred from acquiring any more land.

The governor, along with the state’s homeland security advisory council, are required every two years to review the list.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said blocking some countries and not others could threaten the constitutionality of the bill.

“Instead of going back to what we had before of a blanket ban on foreign ownership, it tries to pick and choose and do a federal power of deciding which countries we have treaties with and which we don't,” Merideth said.

Haffner said supporters have made sure that this bill would not be in violation of the constitution.

Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, is also skeptical of the list of countries that would be affected, saying he would like to see a blanket ban on foreign ownership.

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, however, likes the list idea as opposed to a blanket ban.

“I think that's something that makes a lot of sense relative to where we are, but also just not knowing where we're going to be.” Rowden said. “Our friends may not be our friends 20 years from now.”

Any sale or transfer of that land by a foreign business must go through the state attorney general’s and secretary of state’s offices. Right now, that process is handled by the Department of Agriculture.

The legislation would not apply to any land that has already been acquired by foreign entities. Currently, Smithfield Foods, which was bought by China, owns some farmland in the state.

Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City, voted yes on the bill but said she had concerns on whether the legislation would restrict the ability for non-citizens to purchase or rent land for residential purposes.

“I do not believe that this bill is supposed to be attacking people who are trying to make it here on a work visa or a green card or have dual citizenship. And I want to make sure that we have added protections in there,” Weber said.

Haffner said he believes his bill wouldn’t prohibit the acquisition of land for those purposes.

“There's eight different sections in statute that talk about the right of an alien that is having a residency commitment in the state of Missouri that they have the right to own land,” Haffner said. “What we have put into this bill matches exactly that language.”

The action comes around 10 years after state lawmakers passed legislation that lifted a total ban on foreign ownership of agricultural land.

Then-Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill, but his veto was overridden.

Beck said he has been trying to prohibit all foreign entities from further purchasing farmland for years, but until this year, there was not a lot of momentum on the Republican side.

“I think this is people that are probably going for higher office and they see this as a barrier. They see this as a campaign issue as we go forward. And that's why we're where we are today,” Beck said.

During the U.S. Senate campaign last year, Democratic nominee Trudy Busch Valentine repeatedly attacked Eric Schmitt over his vote when he was a state senator allowing foreign ownership.

Sarah Kellogg has been the Missouri Statehouse and politics reporter for St. Louis Public Radio since 2021.

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