SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A bill making its way through the South Dakota state legislature would set up a committee to review agricultural land purchases by foreign people or governments. The governor would have the final say on whether or not the transaction could proceed. Senate Bill 185 unanimously made it out of committee this week even without the support of South Dakota agricultural groups; it puts a cap of 160 acres on land owned by a foreign person or government.
Gov. Kristi Noem referenced the committee in a column sent out on Friday, saying she will “ensure purchases from our enemies don’t go forward.”
Republican Sen. Erin Tobin is a prime sponsor of SB 185. She says the governor’s office told her about the legislation.
“I told them right away that I love the bill, I love the idea and if I can help in any way let me know, and they reached out shortly afterward and asked if I would prime it in the Senate,” Tobin said.
She has heard from other lawmakers about existing law.
“‘Hey, we have a law on the books in South Dakota that says no foreign entities can own anything over 160 acres,’ so I always felt comfortable with that,” Tobin said. “But under further review, what you find out is that it’s a system that is self-reported.”
This week in committee Noem’s deputy general counsel said the current law is not enforced.
Several agricultural trade groups spoke out against the legislation, including the head of the South Dakota Farm Bureau who says the issue should be handled on the federal level and that U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds has a bill pending in the Senate.
Kent Frerichs served as a Democrat in the South Dakota House of Representatives in the 70s and 80s. He tells KELOLAND News that he was prime sponsor of previous legislation that put a limit on foreign ownership into law.
“I certainly support the concept of trying to restrict foreign ownership of our agriculture land here in South Dakota, so I commend the governor and the sponsor and the supporters,” Frerichs said.
But for Frerichs, SB 185 isn’t necessary. He says it means more bureaucracy.
“The concern I have is that back in 1979 when we passed the law then, which has been in existence ever since, that is able to control I think these purchases by foreign interests,” Frerichs said.
According to the most recent data from the USDA, about 1% of privately-owned agricultural land in South Dakota is owned by foreigners. Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany have the biggest shares. Noem has specifically mentioned China, a country she claims hates Americans, as a nation that SB 185 would prevent from buying land.
Tobin says the legislation will be on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
Bob Mercer and Rae Yost contributed to this story.