Seed-firm suers told to file in Missouri

Posted: September 6, 2017 at 2:03 a.m.

Arkansas farmers who planted Monsanto's dicamba-tolerant crops, then sued the company this summer, will have to take their case to Monsanto's home turf in Missouri.

After an hourlong hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall said contracts between the farmers and Monsanto regarding the disposition of any disputes were enforceable and not unreasonable.

"You made some good points, but the law is firmly against you here," Marshall told David Hodges, a Little Rock attorney for about a dozen Phillips County farmers who challenged Monsanto's efforts to move the case from Arkansas to Missouri.

Monsanto also has a motion pending to have the case dismissed. No hearings have been set on that matter.

The contracts -- called the Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement -- say disputes with soybean farmers and other producers must be filed in federal court or in state circuit court in St. Louis.

Disputes with cotton farmers go to arbitration hearings held in the grower's home state, according to the contracts.

Monsanto is based in Creve Coeur, a St. Louis suburb.

Jan Paul Miller, a St. Louis attorney for Monsanto, said Tuesday there was no dispute over whether the farmers signed the contracts. All other matters, including whether the farmers understood what they were signing or the convenience of a trial in St. Louis or Little Rock, were irrelevant, Miller said.

Law in Arkansas and in Missouri is clear, Miller said. "If you signed it, you signed it," he said.

In a lawsuit first filed in Phillips County Circuit Court on June 20 and then transferred to federal district court in Arkansas, the Phillips County farmers said they bought and planted Monsanto's dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton this year.

They claimed they were unable to fully use the technology after Arkansas banned the sale and use of the dicamba herbicide after July 11, because of hundreds of complaints alleging that the herbicide had moved off target and damaged thousands of acres of crops, produce and other vegetation not dicamba-tolerant. Dicamba has been effective in killing pigweed, a crop nuisance that has grown resistant to other herbicides.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state Plant Board had received 963 complaints.

The lawsuit was the first filed by farmers who planted Monsanto's Xtend crop system. Other lawsuits in Missouri and Arkansas have been filed by farmers whose crops were damaged in 2016, when Monsanto sold dicamba-tolerant seeds despite not yet having its dicamba herbicide approved by federal regulators.

Another defendant in the lawsuit, BASF, took no position on whether the lawsuit should be transferred. BASF's dicamba-based herbicide, Engenia, was the only dicamba legal for in-crop use this year in the state. Monsanto signed a licensing agreement with BASF to allow the sale of Engenia, a competitor to Monsanto's Xtendimax with VaporGrip. The companies say their new versions are less volatile and less prone to off-target drift.

Business on 09/06/2017