A group of black farmers say they were given low quality seed that seriously hurt their business — and that racial discrimination may have been a factor, according to a lawsuit filed in Tennessee.
The class-action lawsuit says Stine Seed Company "willfully coated, treated and switched certified seeds with seeds of inferior genetics, purity and germination" at least partially because of "racial animus" toward the black farmers.
In a statement given to Local Memphis and other outlets, Stine called the allegations "without merit and factually unsupportable" and said it had filed a motion to dismiss.
The lawsuit alleges that black farmers attended a farm show at a Memphis convention center in 2017, where they purchased about $100,000 worth of soybean seed from Stine, the Commercial Appeal reported. The plaintiffs believe the seed was switched out for an inferior seed at a facility in Mississippi, according to the paper.
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"Mother nature doesn't discriminate," Thomas Burrell, President of Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, told WMC. "It doesn't rain on white farms but not black farms ... why is it then that white farmers are buying Stine seed and their yield is 60, 70, 80, and 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?"
When their yields were so low, the farmers thought they were the ones doing something wrong, they told WREG. But then they sent the seeds to researchers at Mississippi State University, who told them the seeds were not certified, according to WMC.
""They were effectively duped," Burrell told WREG. "It’s a double whammy for these farmers. It accelerates their demise and effectively it puts them out of business."
Tennessee state representative. G.A. Hardaway told WMC he would try to find relief for the farmers.
"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," he told the station.
Burrell pointed to a dwindling population of black farmers in the United States and said they had been forced to deal with "systemic racism" first from the government and now from companies that had "weaponized" their seeds to target the remaining black farmers, the Commercial Appeal reported.
"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 the motivation here," Burrell told WMC.
The company, in a statement to Local Memphis and other outlets, denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
"“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," the statements reads.
"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.”