LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A group of Arkansas rice farmers sued a company that produces hybrid seed on Monday, claiming that RiceTec Inc. supplied them with seed that produced an inferior crop and sometimes didn't grow well enough to be harvested.
The lawsuit was filed in response to RiceTec suing a Greene County farmer who didn't pay his bill after he claimed the Texas-based company didn't reimburse him for his costs after selling him inferior seed. That farmer countersued, and 32 other farmers joined the lawsuit Monday.
The farmers claim there are two major problems with the seed: Some seed is so defective that farmers were forced to replant entire sections of their fields, and RiceTec's hybrids as a whole produce an inferior product, according to the farmers' lead attorney, Clayton Smaistrla of San Antonio.
The lawsuit, filed in Greene County Circuit Court, said farmers are seeing lower prices for their rice because RiceTec's hybrid rice grows with less bran around the kernel, and it doesn't mill as well as non-hybrid long-grain rice, which has more bran. The farmers claim that the RiceTec varieties chip and don't cook as well, leading to less demand and lower prices.
RiceTec claims on its packaging that its seed will bring a higher yield than conventional long-grain rice seed, according to the lawsuit.
"What you see now is farmers uniting to take a stand," Smaistrla said.
The suit does not seek class action status. Smaistrla said the claims vary from farmer to farmer.
Company officials declined comment, saying they had not yet seen the lawsuit.
"We have just become aware of the lawsuit," RiceTec Chief Operating Officer Larry Haugen said in an email. "It's our policy to not comment on any litigation until we've had an opportunity to review it."
Among the plaintiffs is Lance Hill, who farms 2,000 acres in the southeast Arkansas Delta. He had to replant part of his field this year and said RiceTec would only provide new seed and not cover the full cost of replanting.
"It's sporadic, it's inconsistent and the quality is terrible," said Hill, who lives in Dumas. "Every year they claim they worked out their problems with their seed. Every year it's the same thing, they created a new problem."
"I'd just like to be compensated for my losses here and in the past. I'd like to get what I pay for," he added.
Many farmers sought hybrid seed after non-hybrid rice was contaminated with a genetically-modified strain starting in 2006. The contamination of traditional long-grain rice had a severe economic impact on Arkansas rice growers, who produce about half the nation's rice.
Growers saw prices plunge after European nations would no longer buy U.S.-grown rice because of the genetic modification, which had not been approved for human consumption. The contamination was linked to Bayer CropScience, which produces conventional long-grain rice seed. The company reached a $750 million settlement with rice farmers last year.
The RiceTec hybrid is popular because it resists panicle blight, a disease that takes hold when nighttime temperatures are high and can hurt conventional long-grain yields.
On its website, RiceTec bills itself as "a technology-based rice company focused on high-value products, RiceTec is the first company to commercialize hybrid rice seed in North and South America."
The farmer who RiceTec originally sued for nonpayment was Scott Meredith of Delaplaine. He countersued the company earlier this month, and that action led to the court action Monday.
"There are a lot of us small farmers out there who deserve better treatment," Meredith said in a statement.
"We hope for an amicable resolution to a very real problem," Smaistrla added.