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Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Lands

February 7, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Elena Bickell

Laws that place constraints on ownership of agricultural land by nonresident aliens or foreign owners and businesses vary between states. Some states generally prohibit foreign ownership of agricultural land, while others lack any provisions related to foreign land ownership. Missouri and 19 other states currently have laws in place that constrain or prohibit foreign individuals or businesses from acquiring agricultural land. Missouri law specifically restricts aliens and foreign businesses from acquiring agricultural land in the state by grant, purchase, devise or descent, and caps are in place for foreign ownership of agricultural land at 1% of the state’s total agricultural acreage. SB 791 and HB 1947 would prevent aliens or foreign businesses from acquiring any agricultural land in Missouri after August 28, 2022. 

Highlights 

  • As of December 31, 2020, foreign investors held — either through direct ownership or long-term leases — 37.6 million acres of U.S. agricultural land (both forests and farms).
    • This is 2.9% of all privately held agricultural land and 1.7% of all land in the U.S.
    • This is a 2.9% increase or 2.4 million more acres of all available agricultural land in the U.S. since December 2019.
  • Although Missouri has had regulatory restrictions in place, foreign-held agricultural land grew by nearly 50,000 acres between 2019-20 and has surpassed the 1% cap with over 1.1% of its total agricultural land being foreign held today.
  • Currently, 14 states prohibit foreign entities from owning state agricultural land. Nine states specifically prohibit foreign corporations from owning agricultural land.

Limitations

  • Laws limiting or governing foreign ownership of agricultural land vary from state to state, but it is not always clear who is responsible for enforcing these laws. 
  • 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.

This Note has been updated. You can access previous versions here: V1 (January 2021), V2 (February 2021)

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