Class Action Claims Crop Input Companies Breached Antitrust Laws

A farmer filed a class-action complaint on Tuesday in the Southern District of Illinois against major agriculture chemical companies including Bayer, Corteva, Cargill, BASF, Syngenta, and Nutrien Ag alleging that the companies breached the Sherman Act and participated in illegaly anticompetitive activities. The lawsuit contains almost identical allegations as at least one other which was filed earlier this year. 

The petitioner, Charles Lex, argued that the defendants used the nature of the crop inputs market which has a lack of pricing and transparency to increase their own profits.  Specifically, the complaint purported that they threatened other companies after attempts to create electronic sales platforms because it would increase the transparency in the field and their consumers would have more access to price information. For example, the complaint claimed that the defendants would not sell products Farmers Business Network, which attempted to sell farm inputs online.  The defendants allegedly conspired to restrict the success of this company and other startups. 

Defendants were split into three separate categories including the manufacturer defendants, the wholesaler defendants, and the retailer defendants. The complaint reported that prices of seeds and fertilizer have gone up significantly during the last 20 years, but the yields from the crops have increased only slightly. 

“As a result of Defendants’ misconduct, farmers remain trapped in an inefficient, opaque Crop Inputs market and have paid more for Crop Inputs than they would have but for Defendants’ wrongful conduct,” the complaint stated. It listed 25 counts purporting that the defendants breached antitrust and trade laws in multiple states. 

Lex sought relief for himself and the class, which includes people in the United STates who purchased crop inputs, including seeds or chemicals used to protect crops, since the beginning of 2014. The plaintiff sought for the defendants and others associated with them to be stopped from continuing or participating in any conspiracy that would breach the Clayton Antitrust Act. 

The plaintiff is represented by Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP and Schindler, Anderson, Goplerud & Weese PC. Syngenta is represented by Donovan Rose Nester, Federated Co-Operatives is represented by Locke Lord, CHS Inc. is represented by Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, and Winfield Solutions is represented by Eimer Stahl. The remaining defendants do not yet have representation in the matter.