Syngenta Corn Payments on Hold

Court-Approved $1.5 Billion Corn Settlement Awaits Resolution of Appeals

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Syngenta genetically engineered MIR162 corn to resist above-ground pests. The corn entered the U.S. market in 2010 under the brand name Agrisure Viptera. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Pamela Smith)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Farmer payouts from the Syngenta corn settlement remain on track for sometime in 2020, but exactly when is unknown.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in Kansas City approved the $1.51 billion settlement from a lawsuit filed following Syngenta's release of Agrisure Viptera (MIR162) and Agrisure Duracade corn traits.

Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart previously told DTN that Syngenta plays no role in the distribution of settlement funds as the company already has contributed $1.51 billion.

A number of parties have filed appeals contesting the settlement, according to court records. To this point, briefs have been filed with the court ahead of oral arguments.

"Oral arguments are yet to be scheduled and are probably several months away," said Don Swanson, an Omaha attorney with Koley Jessen P.C., L.L.O. "As to time between oral arguments and an issued opinion, I am unable to predict. It could be anywhere from a few months to many months."

In addition, the court is set to hold trials for parties that filed lawsuits but were not made part of the settlement. How the trials play out, Swanson said, will have no bearing on the timing of when Syngenta payments hit the mail.

"The appeal, on the other hand, will," he said. "There can be no payout until the appeal is resolved."

THE SETTLEMENT

According to the settlement, there are four subclasses approved as eligible for payments.

First, are farmers who owned any interest in corn in the United States but did not plant the Syngenta seeds in question. A second subclass includes any producer who owned any interest in corn in the U.S. priced for sale, purchased Agrisure Viptera and/or Agrisure Duracade corn seed, and produced corn grown from those traits.

The settlement also will include any grain-handling facility and ethanol plants that owned interest in corn priced for sale during the period.

The court said the first class will receive at least $1.44 billion. Most of that money will go to corn growers and landlords who did not grow Duracade or Viptera corn seeds. Payouts in the second class are limited to $22.6 million, $29.9 million for the third class and $19.5 million for the fourth class.

Plaintiffs in the cases allege Syngenta sold corn with Agrisure Viptera and Duracade traits prior to the traits receiving import approvals in several countries, including China. China claims it found and rejected corn shipments containing the traits, which plaintiffs said led to lower corn prices.

Official lawsuits that were filed on behalf of corn producers include cases in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

OTHER CASES THAT WON'T HOLD UP CHECKS

On Monday, the court issued an order on the first of several other lawsuits that were filed but not made part of the settlement. One of those trials involves commodities exporter Trans Coastal Supply Company Inc., based in Taylorville, Illinois. A June 1, 2020, jury trial date has been set.

Other trials pending involve Louis Dreyfus Company Grains Merchandising LLC, The Delong Co. Inc. and Agribase International Inc.

Trans Coastal claims it is entitled to recover damages caused by "Syngenta's fraudulent misrepresentations regarding and relating to the status of Chinese regulatory approval of Agrisure Viptera," according to the court order.

The exporter alleges it suffered tens of millions of dollars in damages from lost markets and lower prices for corn and corn byproducts.

Trans Coastal alleges it has incurred penalties of $18.3 million because of its inability to fill U.S. purchase contracts and another $5.5 million in unfilled purchase contracts with Chinese customers. In addition, the company claims it lost nearly $1 million in profits from lost DDGS sales.

In addition, the company said it incurred about $48.2 million in costs on delayed, detained or re-routed shipments and incurred about $66.5 million in damages from lost profits and lost opportunities.

The closure of the Chinese market resulted in Trans Coastal losses on corn exports and byproducts to China from January 2014 through June 2018, according to the order, resulting in a claimed $61.5 million in market-related damages.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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(CZ/AG)

Todd Neeley