JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — About 100,000 acres of Missouri farmland are foreign owned and nearly half of that is owned by a company from China, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
Gov. Mike Parson signed two bills into law Wednesday, one of which extended tax credits for farmers. A concern for some lawmakers while working on the legislation during special session was that some foreign-owned farms and companies would benefit from the credits.
The governor saying it can wait to be addressed when the General Assembly returns in January.
“You’ve got to kind of walk a fine line when you call a special session,” Parson said. “These are things that can be done during the legislative session, but they didn’t get it done.”
Of Missouri’s 27.5 million acres of farmland, 99,500 acres are foreign owned, about .4%. Some countries with the biggest ownership include China with 42,596 acres, New Zealand with 16,271 acres, Spain with 13,742 acres, German with 5,202 acres, Switzerland with 4,507 acres and the Netherlands with 3,004 acres.
“We need to protect our land, we need to protect not only for those who are currently farming but for those who come after us, for our children who want to take up the same professions that we do,” said Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, a cattle farmer in southern Missouri.
During the special session to reauthorize tax credits for farmers, Moon along with a few other lawmakers proposed to exclude foreign ownership from receiving the incentives.
“Is there anything we could do to disincentive them coming in and taking up usable, tillable land and protect Missourians who might come after us to take up that opportunity for themselves?,” Moon asked the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Jason Bean, R-Holcomb.
“I think we’ll have some opportunities in the future where we can do that, we need to look into that for sure,” Bean, a farmer in the Bootheel, said to Moon.
According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, of China’s 42,000 acres, nearly all of that belongs to “Murphy Brown of Missouri, LLC” now owns Smithfield Foods, a major hog operation.
Back in 2015, lawmakers approved a provision that does not allow foreign owned farmland buyers to apply through the Department of Agriculture.
“I don’t know if a campaign that goes by where I don’t see a mailer that’s put out about this,” said Sen. Bill Eige, R-Weldon Spring. “I see ads where folks are very upset about the idea that countries that may not be very positive towards the United States and Missouri, like China, own land.”
It’s a topic that has gained traction in the current U.S. Senate race between Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Democratic candidate Trudy Busch Valentine. Lawmakers who are farmers themselves say it needs to be addressed.
“I think we are definitely going to talk about it next session, I know that’s a priority for several of us, to what degree that we talk about that, I think we’re going to put some proposals together and see what makes the most sense for Missouri farms,” Bean said.
The bill the governor signed into law Wednesday includes incentives for meat processing facilities, transportation of agriculture goods and an exemption for certain vehicles from state and local sales and use taxes. It also would create tax credit programs for retailers of higher ethanol blend fuels and biodiesel, in-state biodiesel producers, establishing or improving urban farm operations and creating the Specialty Agricultural Crops Act.
“The Democratic caucus has a position that Missourians and Americans should own farmland here in the state of Missouri,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence.
The legislation aimed to helping farmers and rural economic projects barely passed the House, receiving just one more vote than what’s constitutionally required. Parson vetoed nearly the same legislation over the summer because the credits only lasted two years instead of six.
Last month during debate in the House, discussion on the legislation was cut off by House leadership, causing many members to double think their vote. House Bill 3 then went to the House Fiscal Review Committee, which had to approve the $40 million sticker price. When it seemed like the committee wasn’t going to have enough votes to pass it, House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, added two Republicans and a Democrat, which was Merideth, to the committee.
“I’ve got to tell you, these process anomalies raise a lot of red flags to me,” Merideth said. “It makes me really hesitate to support a bill if I’m going to find out in a year that it’s going to foreign-owned farms that are benefiting from it or elected officials that are benefiting from it.”
The law officially goes into effect in January. After the General Assembly adjourned Tuesday from a special session, the Joint Committee on Agriculture met to discuss other items the $94 billion industry would like to see. Those topics include the right to repair, broadband, solar farms and land ownership.