Race a Factor in Shoddy Soybean Seed Sales?

July 24, 2018

Certified soybean seeds, fertile soil, ample rain and sunshine, new farming equipment, and sufficient farming capabilities…this sounds like the recipe for a bountiful harvest, doesn’t it? Unfortunately that was not the result for a group of African American farmers from Tennessee and Mississippi. Instead, the seeds they planted were slow to germinate and weak in development. One farmer who typically experienced soybean yields of 48 bushels per acre was experiencing yields about half that amount during the 2017 growing season. Another farmer experienced harvests as low as 5 bushels per acre. Farmers from a 2,200-acre farm in Mississippi estimate that they lost more than $1 million because of the poor harvest. These farmers have since filed suit in federal court in Tennessee, alleging, among other things, that the certified seeds they purchased from Stine Seed Company were replaced with inferior treated seeds at a warehouse in Sledge, Mississippi and that they were discriminated against because of their race.

Back in March 2017, two of the plaintiff farmers had attended the 67th Annual Mid-South Farm & Gin Show held in Memphis, TN where they met Kevin Cooper, a district sales manager for Stine Seed Company who reportedly told them he has varieties of soybean seeds (Liberty Link) that were suitable for Mississippi’s growing conditions and had good yield potential.

Between all the plaintiffs, they purchased approximately $100,000 in certified soybean seeds from Stine Seed Company. Merriam-Webster defines “certified seed” as “seed of good quality and established identity verified by an official agency after inspection”.

The seeds ordered by Plaintiff Walter Jackson were delivered to a warehouse in Sledge, MS owed by Defendants Crigler and Concept AG. He alleges that on two separate occasions Defendant Kevin Cooper, the district sales manager for Stine Seed, asked him if he wanted the seeds treated with inoculants. Plaintiff Jackson declined the offer.

The remaining plaintiff farmers placed a separate order for seeds from Stine Seed Company. Likewise, their seeds were delivered to the warehouse in Mississippi. However, plaintiffs allege that this time Defendant Cooper insisted on treating the seeds prior to their delivery to the farm. Plaintiffs Burrell, Grayer, and Hall consented to have the seeds treated with chemicals from Concept AG.

After experiencing poor yields, plaintiffs sent a soil and seed samples to Mississippi State University for testing. Plaintiffs allege that James Smith, who tested the seeds at MSU, expects the samples to show less than 10% germination once testing is complete. Plaintiffs indicate that Stine Seed Company did not make any effort to, nor did they agree to, have the seeds tested by any agency.

Plaintiffs believe that the certified seed they purchased were emptied from the Stine seed bags and sold to other farmers and they were refilled with the inferior treated seeds.

In their partial motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, filed July 10, 2018, the Stine Defendants (consisting of Stine Seed Company, Myron Stine, and Kevin Ryan) characterize plaintiff’s complaint as “containing little more than conclusory allegations and the recitation of the elements of various federal and state claims”. Further they indicate that despite the inflammatory accusations in the Complaint, plaintiffs fail to cite any specific instances where the Stine Defendants engaged in discriminatory, hateful, and improper conduct. Likewise, they argue that plaintiffs fail to point to any facts showing that the Stine Defendants “engaged in an elaborate racketeering scheme to defraud Plaintiffs solely because Plaintiffs are African-American”.  Defendants Kevin Cooper and B&B, Inc. also filed a partial motion to dismiss in which they adopt and incorporate the arguments and authority of the Stine Defendants in their partial motion to dismiss.

Defendant AgriSelect filed an Answer on July 10, 2018 wherein they denied the allegations in Plaintiff’s Complaint and raised various defenses.

Defendants Concept AG, LLC and Greg Crigler filed a separate motion to dismiss also on July 10, 2018, for lack of personal jurisdiction. Each motion has yet to be ruled upon. A scheduling/status conference is scheduled for August 2, 2018.

Sources:

Docket: Burrell et al v. Concept Ag. LLC et al [Complaint: Burrell et al v. Concept Ag. LLC et al; Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss (Defendants Ryan, Stine, and Stine Seed); Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss (Defendants Cooper & B&B, Inc.); Defendant’s Answer (Defendant AgriSelect); Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (Defendants Crigler and Concept AG)]

WashingtonPost.com – Black farms say they were deliberately sold defective soybean seeds because of their race

Charlotte Observer – Black farmers were sold “weaponized” seed, and racism may be to blame, lawsuit says

Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN) – Suit: Black farmers sold defective seeds

Image source: REUTERS/Davi Pinheiro

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