JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House voted Thursday to ban entities from China and four other perceived adversarial countries from purchasing land in the state, citing a need to protect farms from the possibility of falling under hostile control.
The Missouri legislation, which now heads to the Senate, is one of several similar bills moving through state capitols this year amid international tensions that were peaked by the trek of a Chinese balloon across the U.S.
"The balloon was just over this Capitol" in February, Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher said Thursday. "We have to protect Missouri sovereignty, and we have to protect Missouri farmers, and I think we need to protect our food supply."
In addition to targeting foreign property ownership in the U.S., many states and the federal government recently have banned the popular social media app TikTok from government devices amid fears that its Chinese-owned parent company could provide data about users to the Chinese government.
Missouri is one of 14 states that already restrict foreign ownership of agricultural land. The new legislation would lower the cap on foreign ownership from 1% to 0.5% of all agricultural land in the state.
It also would ban the purchase of any additional land by entities from China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela, effective Aug. 28. Of those, China is the only country currently connected to the ownership of Missouri farmland.
Chinese entities owned 42,596 acres (172 square kilometers) of Missouri agricultural land as of 2021 — just a little under half of the roughly 100,000 agricultural acres (404 square kilometers) owned by all foreign entities, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Much of that land is used for corporate hog farms in northern Missouri and owned by a Chinese conglomerate that purchased Smithfield Foods Inc. in 2013.
The effort to restrict foreign land ownership gained momentum in Missouri after then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, was portrayed by Democratic opponents in last year's U.S. Senate campaign as a Chinese sympathizer for voting to allow limited foreign ownership of farmland when he was a state senator in 2013. Schmitt ultimately won election to the U.S. Senate.
The Missouri measure has been opposed by lobbyist groups for businesses, real estate agents and pork producers.
"We don't think it's the place of government to get involved in private business transactions," Sam Licklider, chief lobbyist for the Missouri Realtors, said during a committee hearing this year.
Foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land rose significantly in the past decade — from less than 26 million acres (105,219 square kilometers) in 2011 to more than 40 million acres (161,874 square kilometers) in 2021, or 3.1% of all privately held agricultural land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The federal agriculture agency uses a broader definition of foreign ownership of agricultural land than Missouri. It says foreign investors held about 433,000 acres (1,752 square kilometers) of agricultural land in Missouri in 2021, about 1.2% of all privately held agricultural land.