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On September 26, 2017, Syngenta agreed to settle claims brought by U.S. farmers for bringing Viptera and Duracade corn varieties to market before approval in China. While terms of the settlement are still unknown, news reports have estimated the settlement at around $1.5 billion. Corn growers do not need to sign up with attorneys at this time, unless they opted out of the nationwide class by April 1, 2017. News of the settlement came after weeks of a trial involving about 22,000 Minnesota corn growers seeking $400 million in damages, following a settlement in June where a jury awarded over 7,000 Kansas corn growers $217.7 million in damages. These class action lawsuits currently involve corn growers who priced corn after November 18, 2013, and who did not purchase Viptera or Duracade corn varieties.
Corn growers who did not opt out will be a part of any settlement, regardless of whether they hired an attorney to represent them). Although any discussion of the settlement is pure speculation, we can infer the amount of the settlement based on media leaks and expert testimony at the first trial as to the size of recovery for the average corn grower.
Detailed terms will remain undisclosed till the settlement is presented to Judge Lungstrum later this year. Limitations on the current class are currently unknown; for example, would Kansas corn growers be excluded from the settlement due to the verdict earlier in 2017? At this point, any discussion on the settlement is pure speculation.
One thing is known. Nearly all corn growers who did not purchase Viptera or Duracade corn varieties and priced corn after November 18, 2013, are included in the settlement, whether represented by an attorney or not. A corn grower is included automatically by being a member of the class, unless that grower elected out of the class by April 1, 2017.
Although the size of the settlement is pure speculation, we can look at the expert testimony in the Kansas trial to determine what a potential payout could look like. The corn growers in Kansas used two expert witnesses to establish the total market loss of the corn growers. The experts calculated cents per bushel market losses for 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, and 2017/18 crop years. One expert calculated total class losses for the national class at $3.95 billion; the other expert’s estimate was $4.679 billion. If the settlement is around $1.5 billion as suspected, we would see the recovery of damages at 37.97 percent of one expert’s estimates and 32.06 percent of the other expert’s estimates. While this is speculative, these estimates provide us with an idea of what potential recovery by corn growers will look like.
Until the settlement is announced and approved, corn growers will play the waiting game. Once the settlement is announced and approved by the court, corn growers will be notified about how to present their claims in writing to receive settlement funds. Until then, we are all in a wait and see mode.