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Jan. 2, 2024Jefferson City, Mo. |  By: AP

Missouri governor bans Chinese and Russian companies from buying land near military sites

missouri governor mike parson

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Companies from China, Russia and other countries blacklisted by the U.S. no longer can buy land near military sites in Missouri under an order enacted by the state’s governor Tuesday.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s executive order prohibits citizens and companies from countries deemed threatening by the federal government from purchasing farms or other land within 10 miles of staffed military sites in the state. The federal government lists China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as foreign adversaries.

Parson’s move comes after a Chinese spy balloon’s flight across the U.S. lent momentum to decadeslong national security concerns about foreign land ownership.

Ownership restriction supporters often speculate about foreign buyers’ motives and whether people with ties to adversaries such as China intend to use land for spying or exerting control over the U.S. food supply.

Parson, a cattle rancher, on Tuesday told reporters that he believes his action goes as far as legally allowable for executive orders. He said he’ll be watching to see what legislation, if any, state lawmakers can pass on the issue by the mid-May end of session.

Republican Senate President Caleb Rowden has said passing such a law is a top priority for the session that begins Wednesday.

“While we have had no issues at this point, we want to be proactive against any potential threats,” Parson said.

Parson added that foreign entities currently do not own any land within 10 miles of military sites in the state.

Foreign entities and individuals control less than 2% of all U.S. land, and Chinese companies control less than 1% of that, according to the latest available report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which includes 2022 data. Canadian investors own the largest percentage of foreign-held land.

Missouri was among several Midwest states to pass laws in the 1970s that prohibited or restricted foreign land ownership amid concerns over Japanese investment. Missouri law completely banned foreign land ownership until 2013, when lawmakers passed a bill allowing as much as 1% of agricultural land to be sold to foreign entities.

Parson, along with every other state senator present for the vote, voted in favor of the bill, which also included changes to Missouri’s animal abuse and neglect law and a longer maximum prison sentence for stealing livestock.

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 is owned by a Chinese conglomerate that purchased Smithfield Foods Inc. in 2013.

Limitations on foreign individuals or entities owning farmland vary widely throughout the U.S. At least 24 states have restrictions.