Producers and Distributors of Seeds and Crop Protection Chemicals Accused of Anticompetitive Activity

On Friday, a class-action complaint was filed against major agricultural companies, including Bayer Cropscience, Corteva, Cargill, BASF Corporation, Syngenta, Nutrien Ag Solutions, and others, in the Southern District of Illinois, alleging that the companies participated in antitrust activities and inflated the prices of their products. 

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Barbara Piper; she filed as the executrix of Michael Piper’s estate, and on behalf of others who have also suffered from the purported antitrust activities. Michael Piper reportedly purchased herbicides at inflated prices from Gateway. She claimed that the antitrust violations began in at least the beginning of 2014, and have caused operating expenses to “skyrocket() while yields remain stagnant.”

Friday’s complaint explained that the “Crop Inputs” market, consisting of seeds, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides, in the United States “is one of the largest markets in the world with annual sales in excess of $65 billion.” The plaintiff said the market is “dominated” by four of the defendants, Bayer, Corteva, Syngenta, and BASF, which the complaint lists as the manufacturer defendants. Other defendants were listed as wholesalers, who reportedly control distribution, and retailers. 

“The existing distribution process maintains supracompetitive Crop Input prices by denying farmers accurate product information, including pricing information, which would allow them to make better-informed purchasing decisions. As a result, the average price American farmers pay for Crop Inputs is increasing at a rate that dramatically outpaces yields,” the complaint purported. It cited that the price for corn seeds has risen 300 percent in 20 years, while the yields from corn only increased slightly. 

As a result of this activity, the plaintiff claimed that farmers are the least profitable position in the food supply chain, and are often forced into debt and bankruptcy because of the market system’s additional charges. 

Piper also claimed that the defendants worked together to block and boycott the platforms of at least two electronic crop supply sales platforms, Farmers Business Network and AgVend Inc., which were providing goods at a lower cost in order to keep their “dominant market position.” She purported that because of the defendants’ purported activities, “farmers remain trapped in an inefficient, opaque Crop Input market that eliminates their profits and destroys their livelihoods.”

The putative class includes individuals in the United States who purchased a crop product produced by one of the manufacturing defendants from any of the defendants or another retailer. As claims for relief from the court, Piper listed multiple violations of the Sherman Act, along with violations of the antitrust or trade protection acts in 25 different states. 

The plaintiff, represented by Korein Tillery, LLC and Lowey Dannenberg P.C., asked the court to certify the class action, rule that the defendants violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Illinois Antitrust Act, award damages to the plaintiff and the class, and enjoin the defendants from continuing the purported antitrust activities.