A Missouri farmer has pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges after he charged customers more than $140 million for conventionally produced grain sold as certified organic.
Randy Constant, who farms near Chillicothe, Missouri, owned and operated a business called Organic Land Management, as well as a grain marketing firm in Iowa called Jericho Solutions. In federal court, Constant said he pocketed an enormous premium selling corn, wheat and soybeans as certified organic when they were not.
Three Nebraska farmers who supplied Constant pleaded guilty earlier this year to fraudulently marketing the non-organic grain.
The fraud ended a decade into the scheme and only when buyers discovered that Constant’s grain tested positive for GMOs, according to Mark Kastel, who co-founded organic-industry watchdog Cornucopia Institute.
“Its magnitude is pretty much unprecedented, and jaw-dropping in scale,” Kastel lamented.
Kastel said the U.S. Department of Agriculture lacks the resources to police the organic food industry, which is up to more than $43 billion in sales.
“Corn is all yellow, whether it’s raised under organic management or if it’s conventional. And milk is pretty much all white. So, it’s really hard to catch this fraud if you don’t have sophisticated people doing the auditing,” he said.
Skilled investigators have to follow an audit trail back to trace all the farm chemicals used to produce a crop, he said, adding that he believes the system is practically voluntary. And that, he said, hurts scrupulous organic farmers.
“There are thousands of farmers, that are honest, that are getting thrown under the bus here,” Kastel said.
Constant didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Constant’s punishment could be a deterrent for others considering fraudulent organics. He’s agreed to forfeit more than $128 million, and 70 pieces of farm equipment, including tractors, combines and big trucks. Constant’s also looking at as many as 20 years in prison.
Frank Morris is a senior reporter at Harvest partner station KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow him on Twitter: @franknewsman.