ST. PAUL (AP) -- Sen. Steve Dille wants to boost Minnesota's struggling rural economy by modifying a decades-old law that prohibits temporary foreign visitors from owning farms.
The Dassell Republican is sponsoring a bill that would loosen Minnesota's farm law, which now generally prohibits most foreigners from owning more than 20 percent of a farming "enterprise" or an interest in agricultural land.
Supporters of the legislation say Minnesota's empty dairy farms could be back in business if the state allowed foreign buyers to purchase the farms.
Testifiers said Dutch farmers would be among the most likely buyers. Roger Heller, a land broker from Olivia, said it wouldn't solve all the problems of farm country, but that it would help.
Iowa and Wisconsin have recently eased their alien ownership restrictions, putting Minnesota at a disadvantage in attracting foreign farmers. Bill supports claim they might as well come to Minnesota.
The restriction on owning farm land was enacted in the early 1970s in many states, when they feared wealthy Germans would move buy American land, Dille said.
His proposal would allow certain holders of "E-2" visas to own or lease farm land and farm. The E-2 visa is issued only to citizens of countries with which the United States has certain treaties. The purpose of that type of visa is to allow people to make investments in countries in which they are not citizens.
The legislation would broaden the definition of "permanent resident alien of the United States" to include a holder of an E-2 investment visa.
Originally, the bill would have offered that privilege only to people from Canada or Europe, but the committee amended it to include any foreigner with that type of visa.
"To say that Europeans are welcome, but Asians are not is disgusting," said Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis.
A person who qualifies also would have to live in Minnesota for at least ten months out of every 12-month period and be limited to dairy farming on up to 1,500 acres of land.
The farmer's eligibility would expire in three years, unless the state agriculture commissioner determines the farmer is actively trying to become a permanent resident or citizen of the United States.
Doug Peterson, president of Minnesota Farmer's Union, said many farmers favor keeping the strict restrictions in place.
"You can't imagine how important this issue is to them in the countryside," Peterson said. "They are against this."
He said the concerns included that the country is at war and allowing aliens to operate in Minnesota would be competition for citizens.
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