A group of black farmers in Memphis are “encouraged’ by a judge’s decision to move forward with a class action lawsuit against Stine Seed Co.
Commercial Appeal reports that the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association had a status hearing on the issue Wednesday. The case stems from complaints by members of the group in April—several reported that seeds they’d purchased from Stine were defective.
“They swapped seeds and they sold the farmers fake seeds, but billed them for certified seeds,” Black Farmers founder and president Thomas Burrell said.
According to Commercial Appeal’s recounting of events, Bishop David Allen Hall—chairman of the association’s Ecumenical Action Committee—said he purchased $100,000 worth of soybean seeds from Stine. All of them, said Hall, were defective.
Specimens were later sent to Mississippi State University for examination. An inspection of the Stine seeds showed they couldn’t reproduce and were not, in fact, ‘certified Stine seeds.’
“We normally have about a 40-bushel yield, the year we used Stine Seed we dropped down to about 10-15, so that basically shut us down,” farmer Everlyn Bryant said.
The Daily Memphian reports that the plaintiffs in the suit—including Burrell and Hall—are agricultural partners, servicing about 3,500 acres of land in three separate states. They say the low-quality soybeans put their entire operation at risk.
“We had to basically shut down our operation and sell some land to pay some bills or we were going to lose everything,” Bryant said.
“We contracted for a thoroughbred and we got a jackass,” Hall said.
All throughout Wednesday’s hearing and after, BFAA members remained steadfast.
“The law is on our side, God is on our side, and the evidence is on our side,” Burrell said, adding that Black Farmers have always been an underdog.
“Black farmers have always been the David versus Goliath,” Burrell said. “Keep in mind 20 years ago, we were successful against one of the largest entities on the planet: the United States government.”
Stine’s said the claims are “without merit and factually unsupportable.”
“The lawsuit against Stine Seed Company is without merit and factually unsupportable. Stine takes seriously any allegations of unlawful, improper, or discriminatory conduct and is disturbed by the baseless allegations leveled against the company,” Stine President Myron Stine said in July. “Upon hearing 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.”
A hearing to review the filings and motions, including Stine’s request for dismissal, is scheduled for January third.