MEMPHIS — Several African-American farmers from Memphis, Tennessee are suing a seed company they claim intentionally sold them defective soybean seeds in a bid to put them out of business. According to a class action lawsuit filed by the farmers, the Stine Seed Company – the largest privately-owned seed company in the world – intentionally sold the farmers dysfunctional seeds at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show held last March and the farmers have asserted that the scheme was racially-motivated and intended to reduce the number of African-American farmers in the industry.
The farmers realized something was wrong when their crop yields were just one-tenth of those reaped by their white neighbors. The stark differences in harvests nearly put some of the Black farmers out of business and collectively cost them millions in lost profits.
Thomas Burrell, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, asserted that the blame lied with the seed company as “mother nature doesn’t discriminate.”
In an interview with WMC Actions News 5, Burrell opined,
It doesn’t rain on white farms but not black farms. Insects don’t [only] attack Black farmers’ land … why is it then that white farmers are buying Stine seed and their yield is 60, 70, 80 or 100 bushels of soybeans and Black farmers, who are using the exact same equipment with the exact same land, all of a sudden, your seeds are coming up 5, 6, and 7 bushels?” “
They [the farmers] were effectively duped,” he added.
Indeed, subsequent testing of the seed by researchers at Mississippi State University revealed that Stine Seed Company had in fact sold the farmers defective seeds. Researchers found that the seeds that were sold to the African-American farmers were not the same “certified” seeds provided to other, white farmers at the same farm show. Test results showed that the seeds provided to Black farmers, despite having been advertised as certified, showed germination rates of zero and that much of the seed was rotten and mold-ridden.
One of the affected farmers, David Hall, said he spent almost $90,000 on seeds from the Stine company because their products are “known to produce high yield, so you expect it, when you pay the money for it, to produce the high yields.”
Hall and the other farmers suing Stine Seed Company further claim that Stine’s distributor tampered with factory sewn seals in order to remove the certified seeds and replace them with an inferior product, all while selling the defective seeds to non-white farmers at a high price.
Tennessee State Representative G.A. Hardaway said he will lead the push for the state government to investigate the allegations of racially-motivated fraud and discrimination.
“We will explore the avenues — whether its civil, whether it’s criminal — dealing with fraud. Those issues which have negatively impacted our black farmers, those who are in the chain of commerce in agriculture, we’ll be looking at how the state of Tennessee can protect the interests of those citizens,” Hardaway said in a statement.
Stine Seed Company President, Myron Stine said that the farmers’ allegations are “baseless” and that an internal investigation did not reveal any evidence to support the farmers’ claims. In a statement, Stine stated the company “intends to vigorously defend itself against this meritless lawsuit and has filed a motion to dismiss.”
Though its seed sales only account for just 3.5% of the U.S. soybean market, Stine Seed Company is valued at around $2.9 billion. Its founder and CEO, Harry Stine, is the richest man in Iowa. However, Stine’s high market value is not due to its direct seed sales but instead, the company’s licensing of its genetic research to bigger companies, like Monsanto (now part of Bayer), Syngenta and other massive agribusiness corporations. Stine’s nearly 1,000 patents on corn and soybean genetics alone are responsible for generating more than $1 billion in profits annually for the company. As a result, some 60% of all U.S. soybeans are planted using genetics developed by Stine and are often sought after by farmers.
While concerns about fraudulent activity at the company could threaten its direct sales, Stine’s patent business is likely to shield the company from any blow-back that may result from the lawsuit, whatever the outcome.
Top Photo | A farmer unloads crop seeds for storage and eventual use at local farms, Oct. 7, 2013. Charlie Neibergall | AP
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.
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