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House committee approves bill bolstering ban on foreign ag land purchases

Brent Duerre

There’s support in a House committee for a bill that would strengthen existing state law that prohibits foreign ownership of agricultural land. A similar bill failed last year.

The revised bill would require registration of all foreign entities that purchase ag land who have to register with the federal government and also register that ownership with the state.

Secretary of the Department of Ag and Natural Resources Hunter Roberts said the bill prohibits entities in countries such as China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba or Venezuela from owning or leasing ag land in the state.

“It ups the bar for our treatment of these six prohibited entities—foreign countries that are bad actors that we do not want to own any land in South Dakota. It doesn’t allow them to lease. It does not allow them to own South Dakota land," Roberts said. "Very bright line.”

The only exception is land that’s leased for research purposes. Such a lease agreement must be under 160 acres.

Last year’s bill proposed a panel to weigh in on certain ag land purchases. Nearly every agricultural group in the state opposed that bill. This year, no ag groups testified for or against the bill.

Republican Rep. Will Mortenson worked on the bill with Gov. Kristi Noem's administration. He said this year’s effort strengthens the current law by closing a loophole—prohibiting more than 10 percent ownership in an entity purchasing ag land.

“We’ve clarified the enforcement provisions for the Attorney General,” Mortenson said. “They’ve got some real teeth, now. Any impermissible foreign investor looking to do so is taking a big risk because there’s some forfeiture provisions in that measure.”

A prohibited entity that acquires state ag land has three years to transfer ownership of the land.

Mortenson said closing the loophole by knowing who an owner is makes sure prohibited players aren’t using shadow corporations or shell companies to purchase state ag land.

The bill now heads to the full House for consideration.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.