Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TOP STORY >> Rice farmers seek millions

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

A multi-million dollar lawsuit by more than a dozen Lonoke County rice farmers against Bayer CropScience began last week and could continue for about a month, according to observers.

In February, a St. Louis District Court jury ruled against Bayer in a similar case, awarding other growers about $1.5 million in actual losses.

Named Lonoke County plaintiffs in the suit being heard by Circuit Judge Phillip Whiteaker in Lonoke County include Randy Schafer, End of the Road Farms, Inc., Shafer Planting Co. Wallace Farms, Robert E. Moery; Kyle Moery, Carter Farms Partnership, Robert Petrus, Randall Amaden, R&B Amaden Farms, Randall J. Snider, S&R Farms, A.S. Kelly and Sons, Neil Daniels Farms, Little Twist Land Co. and Garner Land Co.

Among those, only Wallace Farms and Carter Farms Partnership are not members of the Riceland Foods cooperative.

The farmers are represented by the Little Rock office of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton LLP, Paul Byrd, managing partner.

Genetically engineered rice is sold without distinction in the United States and some other countries, but in Japan and in the European Union, it is prohibited.

At the time the suit was filed, and before Whiteaker imposed a gag order, Byrd has called the trial a continuation of the long, painful road Arkansas’ rice farmers have traveled since the Aug. 18, 2006 announcement that tainted rice had entered the state’s rice crop. The so-called Liberty Link rice in question was altered to make it immune to a Bayer herbicide.

On Aug. 18, 2006, the USDA announced that GE rice had been found in the U.S. commercial long- grain rice supply. As a result, the EU and other markets would no longer buy U.S. long-grain rice and the farmers suffered a decrease in the value of their rice.

The loss of such a major market as the EU is significant. In 2005, EU countries purchased more than 200,000 tons of U.S. long-grain rice.