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Should foreign companies own Missouri farmland? Lawmakers could put a stop to it

Kurt Erickson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in News & Features

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Democratic state lawmaker from St. Louis County wants to ban foreign companies from buying more farmland in Missouri.

Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, who is sponsoring the proposal, told members of a Senate panel Monday it is a national security issue, as well as a food security issue.

Under current law, foreign companies are supposed to report when they purchase land. But the law has few teeth and state regulators acknowledge they don't have a firm grasp on the amount of acreage owned by foreign entities.

"Nobody knows exactly how many acres have been sold. There is no tracking. There is no enforcement," Beck said.

The proposed law has the support of environmental groups and agriculture groups.

"China has been very aggressive in buying U.S. farmland. That's troublesome," said Brian Smith of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

 

Susan Williams, who operates a cow and calf operation 25 miles west of Jefferson City with her husband, told senators that foreign corporations are making it harder for locally owned family farms to survive.

"This would return Missouri farmland to domestic ownership," Williams said. "Food raised here by foreign operators may not stay in Missouri or even the United States."

The proposal, which would go into effect in August, would not affect property that is already owned by foreign companies and individuals.

Among the foreign-owned companies that own Missouri land is Smithfield Foods, which was sold to a Chinese company in 2013 just weeks after the Legislature approved a law allowing no more than 1% of the state's land to be owned by a foreign firm.

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