Several Black farmers are suing after they say a seed company deliberately sold them bad soybean seed, costing them millions of dollars in revenue.
“They were effectively duped,” said Thomas Burrell, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association.
According to WREG Memphis, the association filed a class action lawsuit accusing the Stine Seed Company of selling them fake seed at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in March of last year. The farmers said they believe the scheme was racially-motivated and an attempt to push African-American farmers out of the industry.
The farmers said they knew something was wrong when their crop was one-tenth of the yield of their white neighbors, who are also farmers. The yields were so stark that it nearly put some Black farmers out of business.
“Mother nature doesn’t discriminate,” Burrell told WMC Action News 5. “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?”
After a year of bad soybean crop, the farmers decided to have the seed scientifically tested by researchers at Mississippi State University. It turns out the seed they were given wasn’t the quality “certified” seed they were promised and had paid for. Test results showed zero germination on the seeds, with samples showing rotten molded seed.
“We bought nearly $90,000 worth of seed” from Stine Seed, said farmer David Hall. ” … It’s been known to produce high yield, so you expect it, when you pay the money for it, to produce the high yields.”
Burrell called the scheme a “double whammy” for Black farmers and suggested Stine Seed was out to take Black farmland by hurting the farmers’ bottom line.
“All we have to do is look at here: 80 years ago you had a million Black farmers, today you have less than 5,000,” he explained. “These individuals didn’t buy 16 million acres of land, just to let is lay idle. The sons and daughters, the heirs of black farmers want to farm, just like the sons and daughters of white farmers. So we have to acknowledge that racism is a motivation here.”
Tennessee Rep. G.A. Hardaway said he would push the state government to investigate the farmers’ allegations, saying it would “explore the avenues — whether it’s civil, whether it’s criminal — dealing with fraud.”
Myron Stine, president of Stine Seed Company, has since addressed the lawsuit, insisting accusations that they intentionally sold bad seed to Black farmers are “without merit and factually unsupportable.” He released the following statement on the matter:
“Stine takes seriously any allegations of unlawful, improper, or discriminatory conduct and is disturbed by the baseless allegations leveled against the company. Upon learning of these claims, the company took swift action to conduct an internal investigation, which has not revealed any evidence that would support these allegations. Stine intends to vigorously defend itself against this meritless lawsuit and has filed a motion to dismiss. Our focus is on continuing to serve all our customers with the highest degree of integrity and respect that are the bedrock of our company’s values.”