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Senate committee passes bill setting up review of farmland transactions against requests of industry insiders

(South Dakota Broadcasters Association) Though nearly every farm group in the state opposed the bill, a Senate committee passed a Noem Administration measure that would set up a board to review farmland transactions involving foreign entities.

Under the bill, the governor would make the ultimate decision which could then be appealed to a court. 

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee passed SB 185 on a 7 to 0 vote.

However, lobbyists from the following organizations opposed the measure, saying it was too cumbersome and would put South Dakota ag producers, commodities, and processors at a competitive disadvantage in the international marketplace.

They also argued that the issues of bad-actor countries’ nationals buying or leasing land and threatening national or food security should be handled at the federal level. 

The opposing groups: South Dakota Farm Bureau; S.D. Corn Growers Association; S.D. Cattlemen’s Association; S.D. Soybean Association; S.D. Farmers Union; S.D. Bankers Association; S.D. Agribusiness Association; S.D. Association of Realtors; S.D. Wheat Growers Association; S.D. Dairy Producers Association; and the S.D. Association of Conservation Districts.

The register of deeds for Stanley County, Patty Duff, said fellow registers of deeds find portions of the measure “problematic.”

Some opponents were unvarnished in their opposition.

“My people didn’t come to America to escape Communism but monarchy,” said the S.D. Cattlelmen’s Association’s Todd Mortensen.

He objected to the governor making the final decision on whether an ag land transaction going through that involves foreign owners. 

“It puts the power in the hands of one person,” Mortenson added.

The only proponent was Alan Vester, Gov. Noem’s general counsel. 

He said there is a growing threat of China buying or trying to buy farmland near military installations like Ellsworth Air Force Base east of Rapid City. 

Vester said Chinese entities have bought, according to one count, 340,000 acres of ag land in the U.S., including in North Dakota and Montana.  

He says he assumes they’ve also bought land in South Dakota.

Vester added there has been no enforcement of the current laws regulating foreign ownership of farmland.

Several committee members said they have issues with the bill and its complexity but thought it should go to the full Senate for further consideration and amendment.

Other Senators struck a more urgent call. 

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Erin Tobin from Winner, was adamant.

“This is an issue that we cannot leave in the hands of the federal government,” she said. “People in my district feel the same way.”

Further, she noted the people in her district were also members of the same organizations opposing the measure at the hearing. 

SB 185 now goes to the Senate for consideration. 

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