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Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Lands

February 17, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Eleni Bickell

Laws that place constraints on ownership of agricultural land by nonresident aliens or foreign owners and businesses are not unanimous across the states. These laws range from general prohibitions on such ownership to a total absence of provisions dealing with this subject. Missouri law restricts aliens and foreign businesses from acquiring by grant, purchase, devise or descent, agricultural land in the state and law caps are in place for foreign ownership of agricultural land at 1% of the state’s total agricultural acreage. HB1136 specifies that no alien or foreign business can acquire agricultural land in the state of Missouri. Missouri is joining the other 33 states that have placed or are introducing laws that place constraints or prohibit foreign individuals or businesses to acquire or hold agricultural land. Similarly, HB506 & SB243 further restrict the provisions associated with foreign acquisition and ownership of agricultural-related businesses and agricultural land, joining 33 states that have placed or are discussing placing some constraints on foreign individuals or businesses acquiring or holding agricultural land.

Highlights

  • Foreign investors control — either through direct ownership or long-term leases — more than 35 million acres of U.S. agricultural land. That area is about the size of the state of Iowa.
  • In terms of acreage, Missouri ranks near the middle (30th) with 324,658 acres of foreign-owned of agricultural land.
  • Missouri is ranked 35th in the nation for the percent of its agricultural land that is held by foreign holders relative to all its privately owned agricultural land, with 0.96% of its land being foreign-held.
  • Six states —Iowa, Hawaii, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota and Oklahoma have laws banning foreign ownership of agricultural land.
  • Although Missouri has had regulatory restrictions in place, foreign-held agricultural land grew by 25,501 acres in 2019.
  • Iowa, who completely banned foreign investors from owning ag land in their state was the only state in the nation who saw a decrease in foreign-ownership of ag land by 7,688 acres in 2019.

Limitations

  • Laws limiting or governing foreign ownership of agriculture land vary from state to state, and who enforces those laws is often unclear.
  • Due to inconsistent national data and differences in states’ requirements, it is difficult to determine exactly who owns U.S. agricultural land or how many agricultural businesses are owned by foreign investors in whole or in part.

Related Science Notes

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