Gov. Jay Nixon on Tuesday vetoed agriculture legislation that would have ended a decades-old state ban on foreign ownership of Missouri farmland.
The provision lifting the ban was included in two broad agricultural bills. The Democratic governor said the provision was added to the legislation relatively late in the process. It would have capped foreign ownership at 1 percent.
"Whether, or to what degree, Missouri agricultural land should be foreign owned is an important policy choice for the people of Missouri, a decision that should be made through their elected representatives only after the specific proposal has been sufficiently vetted and openly considered," Nixon said in a veto message.
Missouri is one of several Midwestern states with laws passed during the 1970s amid concerns over Japanese investment that prohibit or restrict foreign farmland ownership.
Rep. Casey Guernsey, who was involved with the issue this session, has said the current law does not work and that there are loopholes allowing foreign owners to obscure their assets behind domestic-based groups.
State lawmakers approved the agricultural measures shortly before the announcement of plans for Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd., of China, to buy Smithfield Foods Inc., in a deal that would require shareholder approval and a federal regulatory review. A spokeswoman for Smithfield Foods said last month the two sides identified land policies during their discussions and that it presents no obstacles to "closing the proposed combination."
Guernsey, R-Bethany, said he did not learn about the Smithfield deal until after Missouri lawmakers ended their legislative session in mid-May.
A Columbia-based organization that opposes corporate consolidation of agriculture said the broader agricultural bills had been tainted by the foreign ownership issue.
Nixon also cited objections to a provision dealing with animal trespassing. He said the measure would not have required demonstrating that an animal had actually wandered onto another's land and could have been applied to livestock and other animals such as dogs and cats. The governor also objected to a portion that he said would have exempted Cape Girardeau County from a statewide standard prohibiting the Land Reclamation Commission and the Department of Natural Resources from permitting mining operations within 1,000 feet of a school that has existed for at least five years.
Nixon on Tuesday signed into a law another broad agricultural bill that includes sections on farm loans, University of Missouri extension districts and urban agricultural zones.
Extension councils will be allowed to form single or multi-county district that then would be allowed to put a property tax on the ballot in that district of no more than 30 cents for every $100 of assessed valuation. Extension councils exist in each county and are charged with bringing education and research to all parts of the state.