This past Session the General Assembly passed three agriculture omnibus bills that were then sent on to the governor. He signed HB 542, while vetoing SB 9 and SB 342. These were just two of the record twenty-nine bills the governor vetoed. At this time it appears that neither of these bills will be brought up for an override vote. The main reason is because they both contain legislation dealing with the foreign ownership of Missouri farmland. This legislation has proven to be controversial and needs additional work in order for the whole agriculture community to be in agreement. While some like the existing bill, others want to strengthen it.
One of the major topics that brought about discussion concerning foreign ownership of property was the proposed Smithfield Foods sale to China and the possibility of 50,000 acres of Missouri farmland going to the Chinese in connection with this sale. The fate of the recently proposed sale of Smithfield Foods—the number one pork processor in the United States—is now in the hands of the federal government, because a sale of this magnitude must have the federal government’s approval. Even though Missouri has state statutes prohibiting foreign ownership of farmland, numerous foreign companies have been able to go around these statutes by creating U.S. corporations and then buying farmland through those corporations. Today, this type of foreign ownership holds over 200,000 acres of Missouri farmland and many in the Legislature want to see the current trend stopped. This issue will most certainly find its way back to the table next session.
Part of the process of passing quality and necessary legislation requires becoming more knowledgeable about the issues. As chairman of the House Agriculture Policy Committee, I have been working with both of the chairmen of the Senate agriculture committees at various events around our state as we better acquaint ourselves with diverse state agriculture issues and how those issues will affect Missouri.
Since Session closed in May, I have had the privilege of joining these Senate chairmen at different events, including the annual State Agriculture Rural Leadership (SARL) conference. The organization is comprised of state legislators who chair agriculture committees. The meetings give us an opportunity to discuss current national agriculture issues that state legislators are dealing with and to discuss current agriculture legislation. This year’s conference will meet in January, before Session starts.
This summer we attended three different meetings in an effort to more fully understand various aspects of our state’s agri-business. In June, some of us legislators had the opportunity to conference with the Missouri Director of Agriculture and find out more about the State Department of Agriculture. We met with the people who oversee the day-to-day operations of this department and learned more about its function and responsibilities and its impact on our state. These people help in directing and answering questions, and they give us insight into future department needs and their legislative priorities.
The Department of Agriculture oversees the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. A major summer event for thousands of people, the fair showcases our state’s agriculture, both animal and crop, while promoting youth in agriculture. Some of us from the legislature had the privilege of attending the fair and taking part in several of its activities.
This past week, we also had the privilege of traveling to St. Louis to visit with several agri-business groups there. We met with ADM (Archer-Daniels-Midland) and their subsidiary ARTCO (American River Transportation Company), Monsanto, and the Union Pacific Railway. One of the main purposes of the trip was to better understand the importance of transportation as it relates to moving agricultural goods across and from our state. We learned more about our surface transportation network— the highways, the navigable waterways, and the railways—and the importance of all three of these surface transportation infrastructures working in harmony to successfully and profitably move Missouri’s and neighboring state’s goods.
After the Veto Session, we will begin our interim committee meetings, some of which will take us to different locations around the state. These meetings serve to help bring legislators closer to the people and the issues that concern them.