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Deadline Looms for Syngenta Settlement Claims

A year with slumping crop prices seems like an odd time to leave money on the table. So far, that’s what’s happening with the $1.51 billion settlement of a nationwide class action lawsuit against Syngenta. Most U.S. corn farmers are eligible, and the deadline is October 12.

Last spring, 643,000 notices went out to farmers who can submit claims. Most haven’t.

“There have been over 100,000 submissions to date,” says Patrick Stueve, a Kansas City attorney who is one of four co-lead counsels in the consolidated litigation. It resolved all farmer claims with an amount believed to be the largest agricultural settlement in U.S. history. It covers part of the losses farmers suffered when China stopped buying U.S. corn in 2013 after discovering genetic traits found in Syngenta seed. China hadn’t yet approved those traits for its corn imports.

Farmers who grew corn sold between September 15, 2013, and April 10, 2018, can submit claims by going to CornSeedSettlement.com.

“We’ve spoken with several farmers that have submitted. Literally, it takes a matter of minutes,” says Stueve. He expects a rush to submit claims before harvest.

Each farm’s claim is based on the annual acreage report submitted to the Farm Service Agency (form FSA-578) or crop insurance data as well as the county average corn yields. Growers don’t have to dig up those records. You just have to authorize the claims administrator to access them when you visit the corn seed settlement website. You also need to submit a claim for each FSA farm number where you grew corn, Stueve says.

How much money will producers receive?

Expert witnesses who testified in a lawsuit representing Kansas farmers estimated that lost exports to China cost farmers between about 11¢ to 15¢ a bushel in each of the first two years and that total losses may have reached almost $5 billion over the past five years.

Last year, before the settlement of all nationwide lawsuits, University of Nebraska agricultural law specialist J. David Aiken estimated farmers will receive 5¢ to 7¢ per bushel.

At this point, Stueve is reluctant to give a range of payment per bushel that you could expect.

“The amount you’re going to receive is going to depend on the level of participation of farmers,” he says. “It’s going to be worthwhile to take a few minutes to submit the claim.”

Who’s eligible?

Some farmers are still confused about who is eligible to submit a claim, says Tiffany Dowell, an agricultural law specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Growers have told her that they didn’t think they qualify for payments because they didn’t plant any Syngenta seed that led to the lawsuits (Agrisure Viptura and Agrisure Duracade).

“It’s the opposite,” Dowell says. “A lot of the lawsuits excluded them (the Syngenta growers).”

Farmers who didn’t plant the Syngenta corn seed will get a larger payment, Dowell says.

Those who grew the Syngenta seed were included in the consolidated settlement. “They’re still eligible for recovery but for a smaller slice of the pie,” she says. 

Besides those two groups of farmers, two others — grain handlers and ethanol producers — will receive payments.

The fees of the attorneys representing farmers will also come out of the $1.51 billion settlement.

“I would think they’d be in that 33% to 40% range. That’s pretty standard in a class action,” she says.

Because of all that, and the fact that each farmer’s payment will vary based on county yields, Dowell also was reluctant to estimate the per-bushel amount farmers can expect.

When will payments come?

Farmers who submit claims will also have to wait until next year for payments.

The District of Kansas federal court in Kansas City still has to give final approval to the settlement at a hearing set for November 15. Dowell says the court could make changes to the settlement at that time.

An appeals process follows the final settlement. Stueve says that checks are likely to be sent out sometime after March of next year.

Farmers had until August 10 of this year to opt out of the class action settlement, which would have allowed them to pursue their own lawsuits.

“At this point, doing nothing keeps you in the class but prevents you from getting a payment,” she says.

For more information on the Syngenta settlement, read Dowell’s blog post Syngenta Settlement: What Producers Need to Know.

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