Mediation is a no-go for Memphis-based Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) and the Stine Seed Co., which is accused of selling Black farmers bad seed in an attempt to drive them out of the soybean business.
The two parties are now in a wait-and-see mode after a court-set March 15 deadline for mediation has passed, The Tri-State Defender reported.
On April 5, attorneys for the Stine Seed Co. filed a “no settlement” mediation report to the U.S. Western District Court for Tennessee indicating that it had not moved any closer to reaching a settlement with the Black farmers. The BFAA sued the seed-breeding giant last year after it claimed the company deliberately sold bad soybean seed to Black farmers at the March 2017 Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, a scheme they believe was racially motivated.
The farmers said they knew something was up when their soybean crop was one-tenth of the yield of their white neighbors who are also farmers. The yield deficits were so stark that they nearly put some Black farmers out of business, costing them millions of dollars in revenue.
“They were effectively duped,” BFAA president Thomas Burrell said at the time. “Mother Nature doesn’t discriminate.”
U.S. District Judge John T. Fowlkes Jr. set a March 15 mediation date and urged the two sides to “sit down and talk about this.” That didn’t happen, however.
With the deadline now passed, two possibilities are the two parties could be ordered back to mediation with a new deadline, or the case could be tossed altogether. The Tri-City Defender reported that since the missed mediation deadline Stine Seed Co. again has moved to have the lawsuit dismissed, a motion the judge had previously denied.
According to the newspaper, the BFAA has also filed a motion to amend its lawsuit by adding new plaintiffs that have come forward since the original complaint was filed in July 2018.
A new court date and trial are also among the next-step possibilities.
In their lawsuit, the BFAA said Black farmers had purchased nearly $100,000 in “certified” quality soybean seed from Stine Co., only to realize they had been given an inferior grade of seed. The farmers had the seeds scientifically tested after their crop yields came up short and learned there was zero germination on the seeds, with some samples showing rotten molded seed.
“We bought nearly $90,000 worth of seed” from Stine Seed, farmer David Hall told WMC Action 5 News. “It’s been known to produce high yield, so you expect it, when you pay the money for it, to produce the high yields.”
Stine Co. president Myron Stine has vehemently denied the discrimination claims and said the “company took swift action to conduct an internal investigation, which has not revealed any evidence that would support these allegations.”
At a hearing earlier this year, lead attorney Maria Calaf explained that Stine had been engaging in “a give and take” with the Black farmers after learning of their meager yields but said the lawsuit’s filing last year stymied the process.
The next step in the parties’ case remains unclear.