A group of black farmers filed a federal lawsuit in Memphis, accusing an Iowa-based seed company of selling them fake soybeans, costing them thousands of dollars. Advocates say it’s part of a more sinister plot — to “annihilate” the few remaining black farmers. @WMCActionNews5pic.twitter.com/ak621ftZyJ— Brandon Richard (@BrandonLRichard) July 10, 2018
Over the years, African-American farmers have been subjected to a number of discriminatory practices across the country. From being barred from getting farm loans to keeping them from owning a piece of land–all in an apparent effort to put them out of the business, these hardworking famers have gone through a lot.
Just recently, a group representing African-American growers in the Mid-South region surrounding Memphis claimed they were sold fake seeds at the city’s Mid-South Farm & Gin Show in March 2017.
Despite adequate rainfall, the farmers noticed limited soybean yield during the last year’s harvest. That’s when they got the seeds tested by experts at the Mississippi State University – and to their shock, none of them germinated.
Leaders of the Memphis-based Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association have filed a lawsuit against the nation's largest independent seed-producer, Stine Seed Company, for orchestrating a multi-million scheme by selling African-American growers defective seeds.
“Mother nature doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t rain on white farms but not black farms. Insects don’t [only] attack black farmers’ land…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?” said Thomas Burrell, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.
The lawsuit alleged black farmers bought more than $100,000 worth of Stine seeds last year, but somehow the manufacturers reportedly replaced them with the inferior ones at a warehouse near Sledge, Mississippi.
Since the seeds were of poor quality, the yield the farmers received was just one-tenth of what their white neighbors got. Hence, with such limited output, they were not able to make enough profit and reportedly lost millions of dollars.
Though the motive of such an unscrupulous scheme wasn’t explicitly mentioned, black farmers claimed since the competition is so high they must have appeared to be an easier target to wipe out.
However, Burrell didn’t hesitate from claiming the perpetrators had their eyes on their lands.
“All we have to do is look at here: 80 years ago you had a million black farmers, today you have less than 5,000. These individuals didn’t buy 16 million acres of land, just to let is lay idle. 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,” he said.
"It is competitive to the extent now that any acre of land that competitors can get they will use it,” Burrell added.
Even the state legislator, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, is pushing the government to investigate the allegations.
"We will explore the avenues –whether it’s civil, whether it's criminal – dealing with fraud. 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," Hardaway said.
Predictably, black farmers, who spent additional hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep their crops healthy, were trying to come to grips with their losses.
"Switch the seeds and where do we end up? In financial ruin and disaster,” said Bishop David Allen Hall, Sr. with Temple COGIC.
“We bought nearly $90,000 worth of seed. It’s been known to produce high yield, so you expect it, when you pay the money for it, to produce the high yields,” said another farmer, David Hall.
Subsequently, Stine Seed Company President Myron Stine addressed the lawsuit and denied the company didn’t intentionally sell poor seeds to black farmers.
“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. 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,” Stine said in a statement.
Nevertheless, it really is unfortunate that African-American farmers, whose population has already dwindled precipitously over the past century, had to encounter another massive loss when they were just trying to make an honest living.
The farmers “were effectively duped. It’s a double whammy for these farmers, it accelerates their demise and effectively it puts them out of business,” said Burrell.
Banner Image Credits: Pexels