Memphis, TN (November 16, 2018/Memphis Commercial Appeal) - A group of black farmers based in Memphis said they were "encouraged" when a judge decided to move forward with their class-action lawsuit after the group claimed targeted discrimination and allegedly being sold defective seeds by Stine Seed Co., the nation's largest independent seed producer.
The Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association had a status hearing on the issue Wednesday. The case stems from claims made by the group in April of this year.
Thomas Burrell, president and founder of the farmers group said the next hearing is scheduled on Jan. 3 at 9:30 a.m. to present more evidence on the claim. Burrell said farmers in other surrounding states such as Mississippi and Arkansas, also received defective soybean seeds.
Burrell said Mississippi State University's agricultural department verified the seeds ability to reproduce was 0 percent.
"They swapped seeds and they sold the farmers fake seeds, but billed them for certified seeds," Burrell said.
Stine Seeds claims suit 'without merit'
Stine President Myron Stine in July said the farmers' lawsuit against the seed company is "without merit and factually unsupportable."
Bishop David Allen Hall, chairman of the Ecumenical Action Committee for the group, said he purchased $100,000 worth of soybean seeds from the Iowa based company that turned out to be defective.
A letter was sent from the Department of Justice to U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen on Tuesday, in response to a letter Cohen sent to the DOJ on behalf of the farmers' group back in July.
The DOJ said they will take action on the matter "if warranted."
Cohen's communications team told The Commercial Appeal Thursday his staff has been working with black farmers on this matter and other issues for years.
Burrell said the letter from the DOJ shows the department "may be preparing to entertain the criminal side" of the allegations.
Hall described the allegedly defective seeds purchased by many farmers as "major setbacks" for people who work in the farming industry.
"We did not get what we contracted for," Hall said.
"It was a lesser species of seeds we received that we put in the ground," he added.