Syngenta GMO corn litigation

We have the privilege of representing dozens of farmers, holding in excess of one million acres, in cooperation with our co-counsel, Onder, Shelton, O’Leary, & Peterson, LLC. Corn producers across the United States suffered the consequences when Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade GMO corn was mixed into the US corn supply, rendering it unmarketable in China. With a key consumer out of the picture and a glut on the market, corn prices fell. Farmers suffered the consequences for Syngenta’s negligence.

As you may have heard, the plaintiff-farmers prevailed June 23, 2017, in the first lawsuit against Syngenta related to the genetically modified corn – a whopping $217,700,000 verdict. While this is not the final nail in Syngenta’s coffin, it is a necessary first nail in the coffin. At present, we are in a holding pattern awaiting the next trial in state court in Minnesota, which is set for July 10, 2017. Syngenta has vowed to appeal the jury verdict in Kansas.

Now we are pleased to announce that the case brought on behalf of our client farmers is on file in the federal District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. Click here to download a copy for your review. Please note that you will need either a PDF-capable browser or a free pdf viewer like Adobe Acrobat Reader installed to view this file.

If you would like to view the original Illinois state court filings, both the November 16, 2015, and November 17, 2015, groups’ Complaints at Law are also available for download.

Arbitration is not the end all, be all.

Recently, misinformation has been circulating on the Internet about the relief available to farmers when their crop insurance claims are wrongly denied. Certain insurer-friendly sources, even attorneys who present themselves as crop insurance experts, would have farmers believe that the only remedy available is mandatory policy arbitration, and that the courthouse doors are automatically closed to farmers whose claims go unpaid.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is more than one way for a crop insurance company (or for that matter, the federal Risk Management Agency to shut the door on an insured’s claim. For this reason, there is more than one way for a farmer to find justice.

There are times when arbitration is the best forum for having a producer’s claim for indemnity heard. There are times when administrative hearings before RMA or the National Appeals Division of the USDA are the right way to go. And there are times when we take our clients’ cases to the state and federal courts, demand a jury, and have our day in court.

As often as not, the right choice may be a hybrid action, with different issues heard in different venues. It is not uncommon to file simultaneous proceedings in litigation and in arbitration, with an administrative request for RMA interpretation following in short order. In many cases, none of these actions alone will get results for the insured. Payment of claims is only possible if you can “crack the code” for finding the right venue at the right time.

A lawyer who isn’t aware of all of the ins and outs of crop insurance law, who cuts off his own options for getting a fair result is fighting with his hands tied behind his back. Adjusters for the crop insurance companies, RMA officials, and their lawyers have a wide array of tools to dispose of claims. Producers should expect their attorneys to be ready, willing and able to fight in every available forum.

Prevent Plant

“For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.”

— “Maud Muller”, John Greenleaf Whittier

It’s easy for a judge or an arbitrator to understand the disappointment of a farmer who’s invested his time, his sweat and his financial resources in a crop, who’s seen it flower and ripen, only to watch a late summer thunderstorm bring it all to ruin before the crop can be harvested. It’s a different kind of heartbreak when adverse weather prevents a farmer from planting at all. No one wants to be the kid riding the pine in Little League, or the traveler who runs up to the departure gate sixty seconds after the plane’s door has been shut, but sometimes Mother Nature simply will not cooperate.

The farmer whose finds more mud than dirt when he takes his tractor into the fields can relate. Adding insult to injury, his prevent plant claim on his crop insurance policy is harder to prove than the claim of a farmer who can show the adjusters a storm-damaged crop knocked down in its prime.

Prevent plant claims depend on demonstrating that not only that the individual insured was prevented from planting, but that other farmers were also affected. As the 2017 Common Crop Insurance Policy Basic Provisions has it:

Failure to plant the insured crop by the final planting date designated in the Special Provisions for the insured crop in the county, or within any applicable late planting period, due to an insured cause of loss that is general to the surrounding area and that prevents other producers from planting acreage with similar characteristics. Failure to plant because of uninsured causes such as lack of proper equipment or labor to plant acreage, or use of a particular production method, is not considered prevented planting.

Producers beware; this wording leaves cost-cutting adjusters plenty of room to invent reasons for denying claims. “General to the surround area” is a very subjective determination, as any farmer who’s seen a half inch of rain fall on the back 40 while not a drop falls on the shop knows. Likewise, what exactly constitutes “acreage with similar characteristics” is a question that insurers tend to answer to their own advantage and the detriment of producers.

If your prevent plant claim is denied because your adjuster is wrongly comparing your operation to farms facing different conditions, you need to know your rights. Your claim is not invalid just because your crop insurance provider says so, and your contractual rights under your policy do not evaporate just because the AIP has sent you a denial letter. With diligent, experienced legal counsel, you can obtain the coverage you paid for, even if nothing else has gone quite to plan.

The More Things Change…

The news lately has been full of suggestions that major changes are coming to the federally-reinsured crop insurance program. If the proposed cuts make it through Congress, federal support for the program will be reduced by around 36%. Needless to say, the reaction from the agribusiness world has not been particularly positive.

Whether or not major agricultural budget cuts come to fruition, one thing is reliable – when the insurance company gets cut, producers tend to be the ones who bleed. It’s been suggested that the crop insurance program will be changed to cap premium subsidies at $40,000 and to institute means testing. Means testing, in particular, has long been a refrain for politicians putting the crop insurance program on the budgetary chopping block.

In effect, farmers would be punished for success in growing their operations. Even though the trend of the last century has been towards rural population decline, even though economies of scale can make the difference between prosperity and poverty, and even though a farmer’s eyes invariably light up when he hears that the 40 next door might be going up for sale, the pressure will be on to cut coverage options for larger operations.

Farmers know that the business of agriculture is a variable one, prone to cycles of boom and bust. The politics of agriculture are no exception. If you bet the farm on having good weather, $8/bushel corn, or an insurance company that pays claims without any pushback, the consequences can be dire.

In crop insurance, as in the rest of life, you have to fight for the things you want. You fight to protect the financial integrity of the program through civic engagement, both individually and through farmers’ advocacy groups. You fight for your own crop insurance claim, and the continuation of your own farming operation, by keeping good records, by cultivating strong relationships with your agent and your adjuster, and by seeking legal advice sooner rather than later when you’re in a high risk situation.

National and Local Service

Crop insurance cases are routinely fought and decided in mandatory claims arbitration and agency administrative review outside of the state and federal court systems.  Although lawyers must have separate local licenses for each state or federal court where we appear, there is no such requirement in arbitration and administrative review proceedings. For this reason, farmers facing denied crop claims are generally free to choose a lawyer based on skill, experience and ability, not just local admission.  We have more than twenty-five years of experience in these cases,  and appreciate the opportunity to advise you.

We are also pleased to provide representation in traditional civil and criminal cases on behalf of producers and agribusiness clients in the state and federal courts.  These may include suits against insurance agents for errors and negligence in obtaining your coverage; suits against landlords, tenants, trespassers, adjoining landowners and people and businesses who have breached their contractual duties to you; civil and criminal fraud cases; and judicial appeals of adverse agency decisions.  We are licensed in the courts in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.  In other states, we can associate with a local attorney and work in cooperation to represent your interests.

2011 rice crop – heat damage may lower yields

The USDA harvest forecast for rice in crop year 2011 may be facing a downward revision.  The Texas crop is particularly hard-hit in the wake of fires and drought.

Texas fires and drought – 2011 cotton crop

In the wake of drought on the west end of the Cotton Belt and fires in Texas, farmers are abandoning their crops in record numbers.  At the same time and for the same reason, prices are climbing.  If your claim for indemnity on your RMA-reinsured crop insurance has been denied, delayed, or waylaid, call us for a consultation.