by Blake Hurst, President of Missouri Farm Bureau
China is farming 5 percent of the Ukraine and has farming interests in Australia, the U.S., Tanzania, Senegal, Russia and Zambia. They may own as much as 12 million acres worldwide, and Chinese firms are farming over 20 million acres outside of China. Why? Because China has 20 percent of the world’s population, but only 9 percent of the world’s land suitable for farming. Not only that, but people involved in the rapidly growing U.S. agriculture data industry, who are building databases made up of yield reports and soil surveys from American farms, report that Chinese agricultural firms are the best customers for that data.
They are interested in the data because they’re in the market for some of the best farmland in the world, farmland located in the U.S. Corn Belt. China is experiencing rapid income growth, and the Chinese people are demanding better diets. That food can’t all be produced in China, and it’s clear that the Chinese will not depend solely on purchasing food on the international market.
In the waning days of the legislative session last year, the Missouri legislature ended the long-time ban on foreign ownership of farmland in our state by passing a bill allowing up to 1 percent foreign ownership of Missouri farmland. The best estimates we have show that foreign firms own about .29 percent of Missouri land. The law in place will allow foreign interests to nearly quadruple their ownership of Missouri’s most precious resource, Missouri farmland. That’s an increase in foreign ownership of more than 200,000 acres, or about 400 square miles. If the farms purchased are of average size, then the legislature has passed a bill that would allow nearly 1,000 family farms to be purchased by people who owe their allegiance to countries other than the U.S.
Missouri agriculture depends on exports, and our state has benefited greatly from growing exports to all corners of the world, including China, over the past decade. Missouri farmers are enthusiastic and successful participants in the world market and will benefit in the years to come from increased trade with all nations. China is a valued trading partner and is responsible for much of the growth in sales of Missouri soybeans. But it’s important to our future as a state and a nation that we maintain control of the land that produces enough bounty to feed our citizens as well as much of the rest of the world.
Missouri Farm Bureau is working hard to replace the present 1 percent cap with a total prohibition of further purchases of Missouri farmland, capping ownership at present levels. With less than four weeks left in the legislative session, nothing has been done to stop foreign investment. Much of the overseas investment in agricultural assets has been undertaken by Chinese companies either owned or controlled by the Chinese military. That’s a far cry from an open and fair trading system, and the Missouri legislature should act immediately to stop further purchases of Missouri farmland by any foreign organization.