(File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)
(File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)

A lawsuit farmers have filed against seed giant Syngenta will proceed as a class action, potentially involving hundreds of thousands of corn growers nationwide.

U.S. District Court Judge John Lungstrum approved the motion to certify the Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation as a class action Monday in Kansas City, Kansas.

“It allows us to streamline the case and focus on the issues that are important to all the farmers in the country,” says St. Louis, Missouri, attorney Don Downing, one of the lead co-counsels on the case. “And try class cases where we can try to get recoveries for all farmers in the country in a very efficient, streamlined way.”

The case involves a Chinese decision to block importation of U.S. corn in 2013. Regulators in China detected a new genetically engineered Syngenta trait, which they had not approved. China rejected the load and subsequently canceled all imports of U.S. corn. (China has since approved the trait and resumed importing corn from the United States.)

The lawsuit alleges China’s actions forced a drop in the price of corn, hurting all growers in the U.S., and it blames Syngenta for knowingly marketing a new trait that did not have worldwide approval.

Monsanto chief technology officer Robb Fraley, pictured at the recent Farm Progress Show in Iowa, testified before the senate judiciary committee. (file: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)
Monsanto chief technology officer Robb Fraley, pictured at the recent Farm Progress Show in Iowa, testified before the senate judiciary committee. (file: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)

Supporters and opponents of several proposed mergers among agricultural seed and chemical companies are making their case to lawmakers in Washington.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday to, as committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grasley (R-Iowa) put it, get everything out on the table. Grassley says public testimony can raise concerns the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission may need to consider as they evaluate the proposed new pairings.

DuPont, whose Pioneer seed business is based in Iowa, would merge with Dow. St. Louis-based Monsanto has announced Bayer will buy it and a Chinese state-owned chemical company plans to buy Syngenta. Executives from all of the companies except ChemChina, which said its views would be voiced by Syngenta representatives, accepted invitations to testify, Grassley said. The company leaders argued these proposed new combinations are necessary to continue the expensive research that leads to innovation.

Monsanto’s research campus in Chesterfield, Mo. (File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)
Monsanto’s research campus in Chesterfield, Mo. (File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)

St. Louis-based Monsanto, a world agribusiness leader, has agreed to be acquired by the German company Bayer. Bayer will pay $57 billion dollars, or $128 per share, in a deal that has been in the works since last spring.

Regulators still must approve the move.

Two other mergers are underway in the industry, with Dow set to combine with DuPont (already the owner of Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer) and ChemChina planning to buy the Swiss company Syngenta.

For farmers confronting another season of massive production but low commodity prices, the prospect of fewer companies controlling the seed and inputs they rely upon can be daunting.

“In the short term there are not going to be dramatic differences for farmers,” says Phil Howard of Michigan State University, who has studied consolidation in the agricultural arena. “But in the longer term, we’re going to find policy changes shaped by these bigger firms that are going to increase prices for farmers and consumers.”

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