By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell
The New Tri-State Defender
The Memphis-based Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) and the Stine Seed Company are in wait-and-see mode now that a March 15 deadline for mediation between the two entities has passed.
The most recent movements in the case pitting the two included the Stine Seed Company and principals filing a “no settlement” mediation report to the United States Western District Court for the state of Tennessee.
U.S. District Judge John T. Fowlkes Jr. set the March 15 deadline for mediation. BFAA filed a lawsuit last year against billion-dollar, seed-breeding giant Stine, alleging that the company systematically engaged in racial discrimination by selling African-American farmers fake soybean seed as a pattern of behavior. Stine rejects the discrimination assertion.
Fowlkes told attorneys on both sides “to sit down and talk about this.” On April 5, Stine’s attorneys filed a report stating that the two sides had not moved any closer toward a settlement.
Both sides have declined comment. BFAA, through its public relations agent, Patricia Rogers, indicated that the association’s attorneys have advised against any public comment as they await the court’s next move.
Among the next-step possibilities: a new court date could be set, the suit could be dismissed, or the two parties could be ordered back to mediation with a new deadline.
Fowlkes denied the defendants’ move to dismiss the lawsuit, but Stine attorneys have filed another such request following the failed mediation.
The BFAA also filed a request for the court to amend the lawsuit and add new plaintiffs who have come forward since the original lawsuit was filed.
Fowlkes declined to rule on either request pending the outcome of mediation.
BFAA contends that its members were deliberately sold low-yielding soybean seeds as part of a conspiracy among Stine, its sales representatives and others named as part of those transactions. The farmers include Thomas Burrell, president of the 20,000-member association, and Bishop David Allen Hall of Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis.
They allege that in a purchase of more than $100,000 in soybean seed from Stine, farmers believed that at the time of delivery, the company’s certified seeds were switched with an inferior grade at a warehouse in Sledge, Miss.
The lawsuit further claims violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the farmers’ civil rights, and a federal law for packaging, labeling and the transporting of certified seeds.
At one point during an earlier hearing, Fowlkes asked Stine’s lawyers what the company did when it learned about the farmers’ complaints.
Lead attorney Maria Calaf said Stine had been engaging in “a give and take” with the farmers after the farmers reported meager yields and that the lawsuit’s filing last spring halted the process. Calaf said an agronomist hired by Stine confirmed the farmers’ claims of problems with soybean yields.