In the past two years or so, as discussed in the first article of this six-part series, the issue of restricting foreign investments and ownership in privately held farmland emerged or reemerged in at least eighteen states, including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. This reemerging interest in restricting foreign investments in U.S. land, especially agricultural land, is partly due to a Chinese-owned company purchasing over 130,000 acres near a U.S. Air Force base in Texas. Another transaction that raised concerns among some lawmakers is the purchase of 300 acres near an Air Force base in North Dakota by the Chinese company Fefang Group.

Each of these states have proposed, or have plans to propose, legislation that would restrict foreign ownership and investments in agricultural land to some degree. Like the states that currently have laws, many of these states have introduced bills that take its own approach to restricting foreign ownership and investments in agricultural land within their states. Of the eighteen states, Indiana is currently the only state to enact a foreign ownership law within the past two years.

This article is the second of a six-part series that discusses recent state proposals that seek to restrict foreign ownership of agricultural land. This article discusses the proposals introduced in Florida and Missouri. To read the first article of this series, click here.

Florida

In December 2022, Florida’s newly elected Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson, along with two state lawmakers, announced a plan to propose legislation that aims to restrict certain foreign agricultural landholdings. This plan, known as “Florida’s Strategic Land Plan,” seeks to restrict the “purchase, acquisition, lease, or holding of controlling interest in agricultural land in the state of Florida by nonresident aliens, foreign businesses and corporations, or foreign governments.” This plan also seeks for legislation that restricts foreign investments in land surround military bases. This is not the first time this issue has emerged in Florida. In September 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis called for legislation that would restrict investments in Florida’s agricultural land and land surrounding military bases by foreign “countries of concern,” which includes China, Cuba, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, or Venezuela. While Florida lawmakers have established a framework for legislation that would restrict foreign purchases and acquisitions in the state’s farmland, a bill has not yet been filed at the time of this writing.

Missouri

Missouri is one of fourteen states that have a foreign ownership law. See Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 442.560 et seq. As previously discussed in the first article of this series, the state’s law has gone through some significant changes, most notably in 2013. Before the 2013 amendment, Missouri’s foreign ownership law prohibited almost all foreign investments in the state’s agricultural land for farming purposes. However, under the current law, foreign investors may acquire up to “one percent of the total aggregate agricultural acreage” within the state. As of December 31, 2021, foreign investors owned 1.2% of privately held agricultural land within the state according to USDA.

In January 2022, two identical bills (HB 1947/SB 791) seeking to repeal the 2013 amendment from Missouri’s foreign ownership law were introduced in both the chambers of the state’s legislature. These bills sought to amend the law by restricting any “alien and foreign business” from acquiring “by grant, purchase, devise, descent, or otherwise any agricultural land in this state.” Hence, these bills would have eliminated the exception that permits foreign investors to own up to one percent of the aggregate agricultural land within the state.

These proposals permitted aliens and foreign businesses to continue owning any farmland they acquired before August 28, 2022, but would be prohibited from selling, granting, or transferring the land to another alien or foreign business after that date. Thus, the Chinese company that acquired Smithfield Foods in 2013 would have been able to retain its ownership interest in its Missouri farmland under these bills. Ultimately, neither of these amendments to the state’s foreign ownership law were enacted.

So far, there have been eleven foreign ownership proposals introduced in the Missouri state legislature for the 2023 legislative session. Many of these proposals overlap and contain similar provisions that seek to amend the state’s current foreign ownership law. For example, SB 9, SB 144, SB 332, HB 430, HB 707, and HB 832 all contain similar language. Each proposal seeks to repeal the “one percent of the aggregate” exception and include language in the state’s foreign ownership law that will restrict, beginning August 28, 2023, an “alien and foreign business” from acquiring agricultural land “by grant, purchase, devise, descent, or otherwise” within the state. Similar to these measures, SB 76 seeks to amend the current law by simply repealing the “one percent of the aggregate” exception. Thus, each of these proposals seeks to impose a complete restrict on almost all foreign ownership and investments in agricultural land located within the state.

Another proposal, SB 334, seeks to restrict foreign ownership and investments in not just farmland, but all Missouri real estate. Under current Missouri law, there is no restriction on foreign individuals and entities from purchasing non-agricultural land. Mo. Rev. Stat. §§442.560. Accordingly, SB 334 would amend the current law to prohibit almost all foreign purchases and acquisitions in agricultural and non-agricultural land located within the state.

SB 55 and HB 465 contain the same language and both seek to amend the current law by decreasing the acreage percentage exception to “one half of one percent of the total aggregate agricultural acreage” within the state. These bills also seek to prohibit “any alien or foreign business” from purchasing or leasing land within 30 miles from: (1) agricultural land; (2) any military installation; and (3) institutions that are “engaged in the development or manufacture of classified military or naval arms, munitions, equipment, designs, ships, aircrafts, or vessels” for the U.S. military.”

Like many of the other proposals, HB 499 seeks to amend the “one percent of the aggregate” exception under the current law by imposing a restriction on almost all foreign purchases and acquisitions of farmland within the state. However, this bill also seeks to require foreign businesses that hold any interest in agricultural land to sell or otherwise dispose of that interest before August 28, 2028. Most foreign ownership laws, including Missouri, have permitted foreign individuals and entities to retain their ownership interest in agricultural land if they held that interest before a certain date, such as the enactment date of the foreign ownership law. Under HB 499, a foreign business would be prohibited from transferring their interest “to any other alien or foreign business.”

HB 499 also seeks to require the Missouri Department of Agriculture (“MDA”) to form a list of all agricultural land within the state “which a foreign business holds an interest” and to notify these businesses before January 1, 2024, of the divestment requirement. The proposal also directs MDA to “[t]rack the divesting of all interests in agricultural land” identified under the list and to “report any failure to divest such interest” on August 28, 2028. The proposal does not specify who receives MDA’s violation reports, but it is likely the state’s attorney general because MDA is required to report violations to the attorney general under the state’s current foreign ownership law.

Additionally, the legislature is considering SJR 38 which seeks to amend Article I of the Constitution of Missouri. SJR 38 is a joint resolution that would give qualified Missouri voters—in the state’s next general election—the opportunity to either adopt or reject an amendment that states “No alien, foreign business or nation shall acquire by grant, purchase, devise, descent, or otherwise agricultural land in this state….”

Conclusion

As states across the nation enter into new legislative sessions in 2023, the issue of restricting foreign ownership and investments in farmland has emerged or reemerged in multiple states. As a result, other states may begin to consider the issue of restricting foreign ownership of agricultural land located within their state. The next article in this six-part series will discuss the foreign ownership proposals introduced in Mississippi, Montana, and North Dakota.

On January 18, 2023, NALC is hosting a webinar that will focus on the federal and state legislative proposals that seek to increase oversight and restrict foreign investments and acquisitions of land located within the U.S. More information on this upcoming webinar will soon be available on NALC’s website here.

To read the first article in this series, click here.

To learn about the federal proposals to restricting foreign investments in agricultural land, click here.

For a compilation of state laws governing foreign ownership of agricultural land, click here.

For more on foreign ownership of agricultural land, view NALC’s Foreign Investments in Agricultural Land: FAQs & Resource Library here.

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