Race may have played a role in the sale of defective seeds to a group of Black farmers, says a new lawsuit.
The farmers, from Tennessee and Mississippi, say the Stine Seed Co. intentionally sold them defective seeds because of the farmers' skin color. Some of the farmers say they lost more than $1 million in failed crops.
"But despite fertile soil, ample rain, good equipment and adequate farming capabilities, the farmers say, their yields were significantly lower than expected," reports the Washington Post.
“They’ve been farming all their lives. They’re capable farmers. They had new equipment. It’s not that they had antique tractors . . . But for the bad seeds, these farmers would’ve been yielding optimal yields,” Thomas Burrell, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, a Memphis nonprofit group that advocates for black farmers in the South, told the Post.
The farmers say the purchased $100,000 worth of soybeans from Stine Seed in 2017 after meeting at a farm show in Memphis. The farmers were assured by Stine Seed that the company had soybeans suitable for the climate.
But the farmers say that after they had placed their orders, Stine Seed switched the certified seeds the farmers had purchased with seeds of lower quality that failed to produce expected yields. Some of the farms saw yields down from 35 bushels per acre to just five.
"That meant the farmers ultimately paid far more than what the inferior seeds were worth," the Post explains.
“These black farmers noticed that even when these seeds were planted in April and May 2017, that they were slow in germinating,” said Burrell. “These farmers were constantly complaining that their plants were not as fruitful as their similarly situated white neighbors’ [crops].”
According to the filings, a Mississippi State University laboratory test conducted last December found the seeds to be dormant. But Stine Seed refutes the claim, saying the time between the initial purchase and the lab tests makes it difficult to verify the allegation.
Stine Seed says it conducted its own investigation and saw no evidence of discrimination against the farmers because of their race. Myron Stine, Stine Seed's president called the lawsuit "factually unsupportable."
The farmers say discrimination from suppliers is not uncommon for Black farmers in the South. Burrell called them "the new victims of an old problem.”
It's an issue that's plagued Hispanic and Native American farmers as well. After several lawsuits alleging that government agencies wrongfully discriminated against minority farmers, based on their race or gender, the Obama administration offered more than $1 billion to farmers in 2010 to settle complaints.
Despite what the plaintiffs in the Stine Seed case say is systemic racism, the number of Black farmers has risen by 12 percent since 2007, the Post notes. "The United States has about 44,600 black farmers," about 1.4 percent of the nation's 3.2 million farmers.
“We’re not saying that Stine said, ‘Hey, call them the n-word.’ But at the end of the day, these individuals’ civil rights were violated. … They’re being treated differently than a similarly situated white farmer,” Burrell said. “We don’t have any white farmers coming forward and saying they were a victim of being given noncertified seeds.”
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