$1.5B settlement in suit over Syngenta corn
Affected tens of thousands of farmers, grain-handling facilities and ethanol plants
PUBLISHED ON March 13, 2018
Lawsuits in state and federal courts challenged Syngenta’s decision to introduce its modified Viptera and Duracade corn seed strains to the U.S. market for the 2011 growing season before having approval for import by China in 2014. (United Soybean Board, Flickr/Creative Commons)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A $1.5 billion settlement was reached in a class-action lawsuit covering tens of thousands of farmers, grain-handling facilities and ethanol plants that sued Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta over its introduction of a genetically engineered corn seed.
Lawsuits in state and federal courts challenged Syngenta’s decision to introduce its modified Viptera and Duracade corn seed strains to the U.S. market for the 2011 growing season before having approval for import by China in 2014. The plaintiffs said Syngenta’s decision cut off access to the large Chinese corn market and caused price drops for several years.
The settlement, reached Monday, must be approved by a federal judge in Kansas. It will create a fund to pay claims by farmers and others who contracted to price corn or corn byproducts after Sept. 15, 2013. If approved, money could be distributed to class members in the first half of 2019.
The settlement does not include exporters such as Cargill and ADM that are also suing Syngenta.
Four lawyers who led the litigation for corn producers said in a joint statement Monday that the settlement is believed to be the largest agricultural litigation settlement in U.S. history.
“America’s corn farmers and related businesses were hurt economically and this settlement will provide fair compensation for their damages,” the attorneys said. “It is an equitable result for all involved.”
The preliminary settlement did not “constitute an admission by either side concerning merits of the parties’ allegations and defenses,” Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart said in a statement.
The agribusiness giant contended that corn prices dropped because of market forces, not China’s rejection of Viptera. Most of the farmers suing Syngenta didn’t grow Viptera or Duracade, but China rejected millions of tons of their grain because elevators and shippers mix grain from several suppliers, making it impossible to find corn free of the trait.
Syngenta invested more than $100 million and 15 years in developing Viptera, which has a trait called MIR162 that protects against pests such as earworms, cutworms, armyworms and corn borers. Duracade, a newer variety, added protection against corn rootworm.
The company continued to defend the traits Monday, saying Viptera and Duracade provided a way to combat several pests and noting that the strains were “fully approved by all U.S. regulatory authorities at the time of their launch.”
In June of 2017, a federal grand jury in Kansas awarded nearly $218 million to about 7,300 growers who sued Syngenta over the corn modifications. Plaintiffs’ experts in that trial estimated the economic damage was about $5 billion. Another trial was in progress in state court in Minnesota in September when a preliminary settlement was reached.
–By MARGARET STAFFORD , Associated Press
Ag robot tracks crops as they grow
The TerraSentia robot speeds data collection, analyses of crops as they grow
PUBLISHED ON March 13, 2018
Agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary is leading a team that includes crop scientists, computer scientists and engineers in developing TerraSentia, a crop phenotyping robot. (L. Brian Stauffer)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new lightweight, low-cost agricultural robot could transform data collection and field scouting for agronomists, seed companies and farmers.
The TerraSentia crop phenotyping robot, developed by a team of scientists at the University of Illinois, will be featured at the 2018 Energy Innovation Summit Technology Showcase in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 14.
Traveling autonomously between crop rows, the robot measures the traits of individual plants using a variety of sensors, including cameras, transmitting the data in real time to the operator’s phone or laptop computer. A custom app and tablet computer that come with the robot enable the operator to steer the robot using virtual reality and GPS.
TerraSentia is customizable and teachable, according to the researchers, who currently are developing machine-learning algorithms to “teach” the robot to detect and identify common diseases, and to measure a growing variety of traits, such as plant and corn ear height, leaf area index and biomass.
“These robots will fundamentally change the way people are collecting and utilizing data from their fields,” said U. of I. agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary. He is leading a team of students, engineers and postdoctoral researchers in development of the robot.
At 24 pounds, TerraSentia is so lightweight that it can roll over young plants without damaging them. The 13-inch-wide robot is also compact and portable: An agronomist could easily toss it on a truck seat or in a car trunk to transport it to the field, Chowdhary said.
Automating data collection and analytics has the potential to improve the breeding pipeline by unlocking the mysteries of why plant varieties respond in very different ways to environmental conditions, said U. of I. plant biology professor Carl Bernacchi, one of the scientists collaborating on the project.
Data collected by the crop-scouting robot could help plant breeders identify the genetic lineages likely to produce the best quality and highest yields in specific locations, Bernacchi said.
He and Stephen P. Long, a Stanley O. Ikenberry Endowed Chair and the Gutgsell Endowed University Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois, helped determine which plant characteristics were important for the robot to measure.
“It will be transformative for growers to be able to measure every single plant in the field in a short period of time,” Bernacchi said. “Crop breeders may want to grow thousands of different genotypes, all slightly different from one another, and measure each plant quickly. That’s not possible right now unless you have an army of people – and that costs a lot of time and money and is a very subjective process.
“A robot or swarm of robots could go into a field and do the same types of things that people are doing manually right now, but in a much more objective, faster and less expensive way,” Bernacchi said.
TerraSentia fills “a big gap in the current agricultural equipment market” between massive machinery that cultivates or sprays many acres quickly and human workers who can perform tasks requiring precision but move much more slowly, Chowdhary said.
“There’s a big market for these robots not only in the U.S., where agriculture is a profitable business, but also in developing countries such as Brazil and India, where subsistence farmers struggle with extreme weather conditions such as monsoons and harsh sunlight, along with weeds and pests,” Chowdhary said.
As part of a phased introduction process, several major seed companies, large U.S. universities and overseas partners are field testing 20 of the TerraSentia robots this spring through an early adopter program. Chowdhary said the robot is expected to become available to farmers in about three years, with some models costing less than $5,000.
“We’re getting this technology into the hands of the users so they can tell us what’s working for them and what we need to improve,” Chowdhary said. “We’re trying to de-risk the technology and create a product that’s immediately beneficial to growers and breeders in the state of Illinois and beyond.”
–University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
New Hire …
Troxler announces new director of Research Stations Division
Rathbone began as a summer worker at the Mountain Research Station in 1999
PUBLISHED ON March 13, 2018
Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler recently named Kaleb Rathbone as the new director of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Research Stations Division. (Photo provided by N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services)
RALEIGH, N.C.- – Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler recently named Kaleb Rathbone as the new director of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Research Stations Division.
“Kaleb has been a longtime employee of our department, said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Since 2010, he has been superintendent of the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. His management experience at the station level coupled with his knowledge of agriculture makes Kaleb a great choice for the role of director.”
Rathbone began as a summer worker at the Mountain Research Station in 1999. He has served in several different capacities at the station since that time.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in soil science and a master’s degree in agriculture and natural resources management from the University of Tennessee.
He has served on the Board of Directors for Carolina Farm Credit since 2012, and is a member of the North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association, North Carolina Farm Bureau, Goodness Grows in North Carolina, the Gideon’s International, Research Centers Administrators Society and serves on several other local and state boards, associations and committees.
Rathbone is a native of Haywood County, where he grew up working on his family farm, raising cattle and growing tobacco. He and his wife, Monica, live in Waynesville with their four boys, Mason, 9; twins, Grant and Reid, 6; and Joe, 2. The family operates a working farm in Haywood County, where they raise beef cattle, hay and corn. Rathbone is also an active member and deacon of Antioch Baptist Church.